Cindy Dyer, the United States’ Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, is traveling to Laos to discuss the nation’s anti-trafficking efforts and infrastructure from 12-15 November.
During the visit, Dyer is set to address the 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report, released on an annual basis from 2001 by the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, US Department of State. The report ranks governments based on their perceived efforts to acknowledge and combat the issue.
Currently, Laos ranks in Tier 2, indicating that the government is yet to meet the minimum standards but is making significant efforts to comply with the guidelines. From ASEAN, only Thailand and Indonesia are ranked in the same tier as Laos, whereas Singapore and the Philippines are the only nations from the bloc that ranked higher (Tier 1).
The report divides each country into four tiers, as mandated by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA). Each placement is made on the basis of governments’ efforts to meet TVPA’s minimum standards.
According to this year’s report, in 2021, Laos began cooperating with international authorities to rescue Lao victims from the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone in Bokeo Province and, despite access challenges and the pervasive impediment of local official corruption, initiated investigations into labor trafficking allegations.
As part of the ongoing effort, Laos has been cooperating with regional partners, such as Cambodia, China, Thailand, Vietnam, as well as international organizations.
The 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report: Laos also stated that in the previous year, the Lao government identified, 75 trafficking victims, 67 sex trafficking victims – “five men, seven women, four boys and 51 girls” – , and eight victims of forced labor – “two men, two women, and four girls” – compared to 110 victims in 2021. Although the actual number may be higher than what has been officially reported.
Apart from addressing the report, Ambassador Dyer will also be urging for increased awareness and hold bilateral discussions with the government and other parties in Laos, advocating for progress in the most crucial areas of combating human trafficking, including improved provision of services to vulnerable populations such as men and boys, LGBTQI+ persons, and increased identification of cyber scam operation victims as human trafficking victims.
Before heading back to the US, she will also meet with senior Lao officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Committee on Anti-Trafficking in Persons, the Office of the Supreme People’s Prosecutor, and will participate in bilateral discussions with anti-trafficking civil society organizations in Laos, including first person responder organizations, legal experts, and service providers.
The United States and Laos have been long standing partners when it comes to combating human trafficking, as supported by the USAID Laos Counter Trafficking In Persons (USAID Laos CTIP) initiative, which aims to provide vocational training and employment opportunities to vulnerable groups in Laos, especially survivors of human trafficking to prevent them from being exploited again.
“Ending trafficking in persons continues to be a priority for the United States. Building on the responsiveness and efforts shown in the last year, I am confident that the Government of Laos, together with development partners can do more in 2023 and beyond. The United States is committed to supporting Laos in this effort,” said the previous Deputy Chief Mission of the US Embassy to Laos, Shannon Farrell, during the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Learning Event in Vientiane on 17 March.
Although there have been forward strides to combat trafficking in persons in Laos, hundreds of thousands of people are still falling victim to organized criminal gangs in online criminality throughout Southeast Asia.