YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's archaic laws that allow conscription of workers for public projects are the biggest obstacle impeding its fight against human trafficking, a top U.S. diplomat said Wednesday.
"As long as it is still legal for the governments to use forced labor, it will be very hard for there to be improvement" on meeting international standards, visiting U.S. ambassador for human trafficking Luis CdeBaca told reporters.
Forced labor, by local governments or unscrupulous employers, child labor and sex trafficking were also cited by CdeBaca as problems Myanmar needed to tackle better.
CdeBaca said those topics were discussed frankly and openly in his talks this week with Myanmar Home Minister Lt. Gen. Ko Ko and Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin.
"Challenges, of course, remain, given the unfortunate record on these issues, but we saw these initial discussions a recognition of a problem and an openess to act," he said.
An annual U.S. report on trafficking grouped Myanmar in the third, or worst, tier of countries last year for failure to comply with the minimum standards or make serious efforts to curb human trafficking. Others among the two dozen worst were North Korea, Venezuela and Iran.
CdeBaca, who arrived Monday along with U.S. special envoy and policy coordinator for Myanmar Derek Mitchell, acknowledged the country's efforts to combat human trafficking and welcomed its recent decision to stop detaining female trafficking victims involuntarily in a shelter.
Washington long shunned Myanmar under its repressive military government, but the Obama administration reversed policy to try to engage the Southeast Asian country's rulers.
The military-backed but elected government in office since March has made some mild reforms and promised more, and the pace of U.S. engagement has quickened, highlighted by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's visit in December. Several influential members of Congress are slated to visit in the next few weeks.
Myanmar seeks better relations so the United States and other nations ease economic and political sanctions holding back its development.
"We hope there will be more reforms that would be able to be taken into account as we look at the ranking in the coming year. We still have three months left. There is plenty of time for the government to continue to do positive steps towards compliance with these minimum standards," CdeBaca said.