SINGAPORE – The Singapore Government has blasted a United States’ government report which ranks the Republic lowly on a human-trafficking watch list, alongside countries such as Afghanistan.
The 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report – launched by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday – downgraded Singapore’s ranking from a “Tier Two” last year, to a “Tier Two Watch List” this year. It is Singapore’s lowest ranking since the US study started 10 years ago.
Other Asian countries classified under the US Watch List include Afghanistan, Brunei, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.
A Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesperson described the US State Department report as being “more a political ritual than an objective study”.
According to the US report, while Singapore took “some significant new steps” against trafficking, some women from China, the Philippines and Thailand had been tricked into coming to Singapore with promises of legitimate employment and coerced into the sex trade.
“There were no labour trafficking prosecutions or convictions during the reporting period. The (Singapore) Government showed an inadequate response to the sex trafficking problem in Singapore, convicting and punishing two trafficking offenders,” the US report said.
However, Singapore’s MFA called the findings “rather puzzling” and said the US State Department “has not satisfactorily explained how it had arrived at its conclusions”. The spokesperson also questioned the United States’ position.
She asked: “How, for example, can the US rank itself in Tier One when it is well known that the US has been unable to stem a flood of illegal workers, many of whom are trafficked by organised criminal gangs?
“It has not been able to cope adequately with the problem and that is among the reasons why immigration is such a hot political issue in the US. The US should perhaps examine its own record more carefully before presuming to pronounce on other countries. Then, its reports may be more credible.”
This is not the first time Singapore has been described as a country that does not meet the minimum standards of American anti-trafficking laws.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng had said in 2008 that the US State Department’s findings then were a “gross distortion of reality” and that investigations in Singapore showed there were “very few” cases of forced servitude.
None of the 96 alleged human trafficking cases reported between 2005 and 2007 were proven to be trafficking.
However, Singapore’s 2010 ranking is the lowest since the State Department’s study began in 2001. The Republic had mostly been in Tier 2 – except in 2003 when it was excluded and 2006 when it made Tier 1.
While the State Department’s move opens the way for the United States to cut off some civilian assistance, it usually functions as a way to pressure countries to take action.
For example, the US placed Japan on the Watch List in 2004 and 2005, embarrassing Tokyo into stepping up efforts to protect trafficked women.
The US State Department recommended in this year’s report that the Singapore Government “could and should be more successful in finding, prosecuting, and punishing those responsible for human trafficking”.
For example, Singapore did not employ formal procedures for the identification of sex or labour trafficking victims.
The report added: “Efforts to proactively identify sex trafficking victims among the high-risk population of 7,614 foreign females arrested for prostitution violations were not successful in identifying more than one confirmed trafficking victim.”
Foreign embassies in Singapore, meanwhile, reported identifying around 105 female sex trafficking victims.
Activists MediaCorp spoke to previously said the difference in how the Singapore and other governments view the issue might lie in a combination of factors, such as Singapore’s narrow definition of human trafficking and the foreign women’s preference to report to their own embassies instead.
If a woman entered Singapore legally but was abused, she would be classified as an immigration offender instead, activists said.
The Singapore MFA spokesperson said yesterday the Singapore Government was committed to tackling the human trafficking issue.
She added: “Our efforts in dealing with this issue have certainly not weakened since last year. We will respond in detail as appropriate in due course.”