Analyzing Malaysia’s Upgraded TIP Report Ranking

By Radha Desai

All eyes were on Malaysia this week in anticipation of the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. The country’s status would determine if the administration could engage in fast track negotiations for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Malaysia was indeed upgraded from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List, allowing for fast track negotiations to proceed. Many human rights groups, Human Rights First included, warned that this undermines and politicizes the TIP report since Malaysia has not made significant improvement to its anti-trafficking efforts.

While Malaysia was upgraded prematurely, its government is making some progress. The TIP report states:

“The Government of Malaysia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, however, it is making significant efforts to do so. In 2014, the government consulted with civil society stakeholders to draft and propose amendment strengthening the existing anti-trafficking law…”

The TIP report ranks countries based on their efforts to meet the TVPA’s minimum standards within the reporting year, which spans from April 1st to March 31st. The proposed amendments to Malaysia’s Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act (ATIPSOM) were enacted after the reporting deadline for this year’s report and will be considered during the next reporting cycle.

The lower house of the Malaysian Parliament passed the amendments in June, and the upper house did so in July. They now await approval from the king before becoming law.

The amendments will greatly strengthen the current law by expanding protection and services for victims. But are they sufficient enough to bring Malaysia into compliance with the TVPA minimum standards?

The amendments, once implemented, will provide freedom of movement, work authorization, transitional housing services, and a monthly stipend for victims of human trafficking. The amendments also extend the amount of time law enforcement officials have to determine victimization, which should lead to increased victim identification. Additionally, Malaysian courts will have the power to order convicted traffickers to pay restitution to victims. Even without a conviction, the courts could order alleged traffickers to pay a fixed sum for lost wages to victims.

For trafficking victims who did not have access to these basic services before, the amendments are vital to ending their exploitation.

As evidenced by the State Department’s long list of recommendations to the Malaysian government, Malaysia has a very long way to go to effectively fight human trafficking. It doesn’t currently satisfy the TVPA minimum standards, but the amendments will bring it closer to compliance. If the Malaysian government successfully implements and enforces these new laws, perhaps it will earn the upgrade it received this year based on merit rather than politics.

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Published on July 31, 2015

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