CABLE: Updates on Cases of Labor Abuse in Thailand

“199956”,”3/31/2009 23:55″,”09BANGKOK818″,”Embassy Bangkok”,
“UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY”,

“08BANGKOK2836|09BANGKOK499″,”VZCZCXRO5725

PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH

DE RUEHBK #0818/01 0902355

ZNR UUUUU ZZH

P 312355Z MAR 09

FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6591

RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHDC PRIORITY

INFO RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 6375

RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE”,”UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 000818

Department for DRL/IL MJunk, G/TIP CChan-Downer, and EAP/MLS

DRichelsoph

DOL/ILAB for Brandie Sasser

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A

TAGS: ELAB, PHUM, KTIP, TH

SUBJECT: Updates on Cases of Labor Abuse in Thailand

BANGKOK 00000818 001.2 OF 003

Sensitive But Unclassified. For Official Use Only.

REF A: 08 BANGKOK 2836 REF B: BANGKOK 499

1. (SBU) Summary: To follow-up on the Anoma, Prapha Navee, and

Ranya Paew human trafficking-related labor abuse cases in Thailand

(refs a and b), Embassy officials contacted a number of government

and non-government officials over the past few weeks. Criminal

prosecutions against suspects arrested in the Anoma and Ranya Paew

case are proceeding. The investigation appears to have stalled in

the Prapha Navee case, with arrest warrants issued only in the

nicknames of the fishing boat captains involved and potential

witnesses uninterested in testifying. Human rights lawyers have

different views on whether the Prapha Navee case involved human

trafficking or simply criminal negligence. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Comment: While the length of judicial processes in

Thailand remains long, RTG officials appear to be seriously seeking

criminal convictions in the Anoma and Ranya Paew cases. The

investigation into the Prapha Navee case, on the other hand, seems

to have stalled, with even RTG officials questioning the quality of

the original investigation. Although Thai authorities are seeking

criminal prosecution in this case as well, the lack of quality

arrest warrants for less-than-satisfying charges is frustrating and

does not give much promise that a successful prosecution is possible

in the foreseeable future. We will continue to probe into the

status of the Prapha Navee investigation in an effort to continue to

push it forward. We note however that, given Thai evidentiary

standards, and the difficulty of gathering needed evidence, a

homicide conviction will be difficult. End Comment.

Anoma – Shrimp Peeling Factory

——————————

3. (SBU) The Public Prosecutor in Samut Sakhon province responsible

for the Anoma case informed us on March 26 that pre-trial statements

continue in the case, and were provided to the Court on February 5-6

and 24, and on March 11-12 and 24-26. The prosecutor plans to call

for additional plaintiff and defendant statements in June and

August, respectively. He estimated that, in total, approximately 14

witnesses for the plaintiff and 10 witnesses for the defense will

give pre-trial statements to the Court. The Director of Baan

Kredtakarn Shelter (where the Anoma case victims are being cared

for) told on us March 26 that despite the Ministry of Labor (MOL)\’s

September 18, 2008, order that the employers provide victims with

compensation, the employers have not yet done so. The Director, an

official with the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security

(MSDHS), noted that an attorney for the MOL interviewed victims in

mid-March as part of the MOL\’s efforts to press criminal charges

against the employers for disobeying the order. An official in the

MOL\’s Department of Labor Protection confirmed March 31 that the

Ministry will pursue criminal charges and is attempting to locate

the employer\’s assets in order to ask the Court to freeze them. In

addition, the shelter Director stated that her staff would meet with

Burmese government officials in early April to discuss the

repatriation of the victims. (Note: the Prosecutor in Samut Sakhon

responsible for the Anoma case reportedly will be transferred to

Nontaburi province in the coming weeks and the case transferred to

his replacement. End Note).

Ranya Paew – Shrimp Processing Factory

————————————–

4. (SBU) On March 26 the Public Prosecutor responsible for the

Ranya Paew case informed us that he is currently reviewing the case

in preparation of its presentation to the Court. He stated that,

based on information obtained from pretrial victim statements, he is

considering filing another criminal charge for forced child labor

with the goal of increasing jail time of the defendants should they

be convicted. He noted that, if he files the additional charge,

police investigators will need to gather additional evidence to

present to the Court. As such, no trial date has yet been set.

Prapha Navee – Fleet of Fishing Vessels

—————————————

5. (SBU) A human rights attorney working for a group of surviving

crew members in the case informed us March 25 that the group is

planning to appeal the 2007 decision by a Samut Sakhon Labor Court

that seven of the plaintiffs seeking financial compensation from the

fleet owner could not be included in a settlement because they could

not prove their status as employees. (Note: the attorney stated he

is the coordinator of a total of five human rights attorneys working

with the survivors. Also, as reported in ref b, the court ordered

on September 17, 2008, that 38 surviving crew members receive 3.8

million baht in back wages, with interest accrued; the decision

remains under appeal. End Note).

BANGKOK 00000818 002.2 OF 003

6. (SBU) A police investigator involved in the case explained March

27 that all witnesses he interviewed stated that the deceased from

the fishing vessels died from malnutrition and disease. According

to information provided by the attorneys assisting the surviving

crew, the fishing vessels remained at sea for several months while

negotiations over the renewal of a fishing concession was on-going

(the journey was originally scheduled to last thirty months). It

was during this time that the crew had to live on left-over food

stock without any food supplements. Gradually, crew members aboard

all six vessels began to fall ill and die over the course of the

journey back to Thailand (undertaken fifteen days after the first

two deaths). By the time the vessels arrived back in Samut Sakhon

on July 1, 2006, 39 of 128 crew members died at sea due to

inadequate food and medicine.

7. (SBU) Regarding criminal charges, the police investigator

provided an explanation why the investigation has been so difficult

and why no one has been charged with murder. He stated that while

he and other Thai police and prosecutors believe that crimes were

committed by the boat captains, the evidence is thus far

insufficient to support murder charges. He explained some of the

reasons for the lack of evidence, such as the location of the

commission of the crime, the length of time between the commission

of the crime and the vessels\’ return to Thailand, and the lack of

cooperating witnesses to explain the circumstances on the boat. He

further explained that the disposal of the corpses at sea is a

significant problem for the investigation, since Thai law requires

presentation of a corpse or a part of a corpse to sustain a homicide

charge.

8. (SBU) Other officials have echoed the requirement of a corpse

for a homicide charge. At a March 25 conference on human

trafficking in the fishing industry (septel), a RTG police officer

from the Department of Special Investigations (DSI) informed that

without a corpse or a piece of one, Thai police cannot charge

murder. A prosecutor familiar with the case confirmed this on March

30, explaining that without a corpse, the court would reject murder

charges for lack of evidence. A Thai lawyer who works with the

Embassy further confirmed the corpse requirement on March 31. The

human rights attorney for the surviving crew members with whom we

spoke also stated that police and prosecutors have told him that

they cannot prosecute homicide (including death resulting from

criminal negligence) without physical proof of death (i.e., a

corpse). Given the limited evidence, the police investigator

explained his frustration that the RTG can only pursue alternative

criminal charges, namely, illegal disposal of a corpse to conceal

cause of death. Because there is insufficient evidence that the

boat owners, who were not present on the vessels, knew about the

corpse disposal on the vessels, prosecutors have not charged the

boat owners and have instead charged only the boat captains.

9. (SBU) In another complication, arrest warrants were issued on

August 16, 2007, but only include the nicknames of four suspects,

boat captains, since the police are not aware of the full, legal

names of the captains. No arrests have yet been made. (Note: The

use of nicknames in lieu of legal names is commonplace in Thailand.

End Note). Police investigators have stated the boat owners claim

to not know the real names of the captains. According to the

prosecutor with whom we spoke March 30, surviving crew members also

only knew the captains by their nicknames. The human rights lawyer

with whom we spoke stated he provided the Office of the Attorney

General in Samut Sakhon the names of the boat captains. We have not

yet been able to confirm whether the Samut Sakhon prosecutors

received the names in question and, if so, acted on them. We asked

another prosecutor about evidentiary standards in this matter. He

stated that while the provision of a name by a non-governmental

official could constitute a potential lead for investigators, it may

not be sufficient grounds in and of itself to seek an arrest

warrant.

10. (SBU) The human rights attorney also told us March 26 that some

survivors who received compensation from the September 2008 Labor

Court ruling declined to cooperate on the pursuit of criminal

charges. When asked why, he explained they appeared content with

the financial settlement. He lamented that their apparent lack of

interest has made it more difficult to pursue criminal charges. He

noted the pursuit of criminal charges has also been made more

difficult by the fact that many Burmese workers involved in the case

were not legally registered. Fearing deportation, they generally

were unwilling to present themselves to the Court.

11. (SBU) We queried the human rights attorney for the surviving

crew whether, according to his knowledge, the Prapha Navee case

constitutes one of human trafficking. He responded that, to the

best of his knowledge, it probably is not, since the workers with

whom he has spoken went to work willingly on the fishing vessels and

BANGKOK 00000818 003.2 OF 003

did not report to him (or Thai authorities) instances of physical

abuse or forced labor while on board. He suggested, instead, that

this is a case of grave labor exploitation and that he would like to

see the boat captains prosecuted for criminal negligence for the

deaths of members of the crew. When asked the same question March

30, the prosecutor with whom we spoke also stated that he was not

aware of allegations of forced labor on the vessels, although he had

not yet read transcripts of the witness testimony. He also stated

that in his opinion, the original police investigation appeared to

have not been conducted well, either out of poor (if well

intentioned) handling or out of an effort to inappropriately shield

individuals from prosecution. We consulted a second human rights

lawyer familiar with the Prapha Navee case on March 31. He stated

that, according to his knowledge of victim testimony, some of the

crew joined the fishing fleet under the belief that the voyage would

last only a few months and unaware that they would travel to fish in

Indonesian waters. Due to this fact, he considers Prapha Navee a

case of human trafficking.

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