There are several stories going around that congratulate the military regime for finally managing to get some of the bigger human traffickers into court and having them convicted with long sentences.
The regime has attempted to get its “ranking” up in the annual U.S. report on human trafficking.
The Asia Times has some of the detail on the case that finally saw some of the bigger fish in what it calls a “brutal trade” brought to court. In all, of the 103 people charged, 62 people were convicted of human trafficking and other crimes.
The details of this gang of traffickers, led by officials, are grim. Correctly, the report notes that the “[c]amps set up by traffickers in the jungle on the Thai-Malaysian border to hold Rohingya and other ‘boat people’ existed for many years prior to government crackdown in mid-2015 that curtailed the brutal trade…”.
One estimate is “that more than 500 people died in the camps where the people in this particular trafficking chain were held, and that the camps were probably there for at least five years or more.”
The most senior official caught in this ring is “Lieutenant General Manas Kongpaen … who was sentenced to 27 years jail…”. As the report notes, it was Manas, then a Colonel, who “was involved in the notorious ‘pushbacks’ affair in December 2008 and January 2009, when vessels carrying hundreds of Rohingya were towed back into the Andaman Sea and set adrift.”
Remarkably, “Manas admitted using funds from the International Organization of Migration (IOM) to help pay for the ‘pushbacks’, which sparked a global furore, as hundreds were believed to have died at sea.”
At the time, during the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration, the government vehemently denied a push-back policy and ignored the rise of human trafficking gangs. Manas was promoted two ranks after this time. Manas was widely reported and defended his actions. The BBC noted that Manas was “the regional commander of the Internal Security Operations Command.” That report added that he was also “one of three officers blamed by a Thai court for a massacre of Muslims five years ago.”
The IOM is now “investigating whether Lt-Gen Manas … could have diverted any money from IOM humanitarian projects and used it to fund a criminal operation to tow boats out to sea.” It is also possible he used funds from IOM and, more likely, from the state for funding his own camps.
The report also reminds readers that journalists and Chutima Sidasathian and Alan Morison who documented human trafficking were challenged by the Royal Thai Navy who brought a defamation case against them.
The pressure to cover-up was huge, with one senior policeman decamping to Australia and never returning.
At the time, the Army and The Dictator declared “none of its officers are directly linked to the illegal activities.” The police admitted they were afraid to go after Manas.
As Morison explained, “Everyone knew about it. And few people thought it was wrong. We were shown big houses in Ranong and Kuraburi, where locals claimed they were constructed from the proceeds of trafficking.”
One big shot in jail does not change the system of exploitation and corruption. Recall the Saudi gems heist saw senior police jailed yet the police have remained a corrupt organization.