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Challenging Human Trafficking Costs Whistleblowers Worldwide

© AP Photo / Sakchai LalitAn official from Thailand's Department of Special Investigation points at a chart showing suspects in a human trafficking ring during a news conference in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, July 1, 2015.
An official from Thailand's Department of Special Investigation points at a chart showing suspects in a human trafficking ring during a news conference in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, July 1, 2015. - Sputnik International
A trial involving two journalists in Thailand accused of defaming the country’s navy over human trafficking allegations has been widely condemned by human rights organizations in the West.

Alan Morison, editor of independent news website Phuketwan, and Thai reporter Chutima Sidasathian have been charged with defaming the Thai navy and violating Thailand's Computer Crime Act by republishing a report by Reuters alleging that naval forces were complicit in the trafficking of thousands of Burmese Rohingya migrants.

The pair, if found guilty face up to seven years in jail and thousands of dollars in fines. The trial in Phuket is set to last three days during which members of the Thai army will testify.

The Thai army has so far denied any involvement in human trafficking, but following the charges made against Phuketwan, the Thai government launched an investigation into any complicity, on an official capacity, of human trafficking. A senior military official has been arrested.

In May, a Malaysian newspaper reported that around 100 bodies buried in mass graves had been discovered at suspected human trafficking camps along the country's border with Thailand. It's believed that the graves could contain the remains of Bangladeshi and Burmese Rohingya migrants. 

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Earlier this year, 3,000 migrants had to be rescued off the Malaysian and Indonesian coast after being left adrift on The Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea by people smugglers.

In response to the trial of the two journalists, New York based Committee to Protect Journalists have written a letter to the Thai prime minister saying the charges against the Australian editor and the Thai reporter were "intended to discourage other journalists from probing the politically sensitive issue of human trafficking in your country."

And Rights advocacy group PEN American Center said:

"The government of Thailand should refocus its energies on curbing collusion in human rights abuses by members of its own navy, rather than frivolous attempts to camouflage them by shackling the press."

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But the case in Thailand allegedly involving the navy's complicity in human trafficking and the government's attempt to thwart further reporting of the crime is far from isolated.

In 2003, a report titled 'Sex trafficking: The Impact of War, Militarism and Globalization in Eastern Europe' said: "Post-war militarization and the large presence of international organizations further contributed to the growth of sex trafficking in the Balkans".

It also cites a report from the Conference on Trafficking and Peacekeeping, held in 2002 in Italy, which suggested:

"The combination of the end of hostilities and the arrival of relatively rich peacekeeping operation personnel drove the hasty establishment of brothels and, in turn, founded the links between UNMIK [United Nations Mission in Kosovo] personnel and trafficking syndicates. Within this observation lies the most significant challenge, then, to the peacekeeping operations in regards to trafficking — the fact that peacekeepers are often part of the problem."

The Price For Telling The Truth About Human Trafficking

But in 2002 when a former American military contract employee blew the whistle on the complicity of US peacekeeping forces and international police in the human trafficking of girls into brothels in Bosnia and Herzegovina, she was demoted, sacked, and ended up fearing for her life.

Kathryn Bolkovac from Nebraska revealed that "clients" of the women enslaved in brothels in Bosnia included soldiers and police officers. During Bolkovac's post in Sarajevo she found that some of the peace-building officers were directly involved in human trafficking and forced prostitution allowing the criminals to act with impunity under the nose of the United Nations.

In her book 'The Whistleblower', Bolkovac writes:

"Allegations of sexual assault and human rights violations by UN peacekeepers have been brought forth on missions in the Congo, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Guinea, Nigeria, Liberia, Bosnia Kosovo, Haiti, Cambodia, Columbia, Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan."

She was subsequently sacked by the American company Dyncorp, which had been awarded the contract to carry out peacekeeping police work in Bosnia. Dyncorp claimed she had filed erroneous time-sheets — which Bolkovac subsequently challenged.

The whistleblower took the firm to an employment tribunal and won. Her lawyer Karen Bailey said the court found that she was dismissed because she raised the issue of trafficking.

In April 2003, Dyncorp dropped its appeal against the verdict, and three days later announced another contract awarded by the US state department to police Iraq.

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