OHCHR report found that victims are trafficked into online crimes in Southeast Asia
A new report issued by the OHCHR shows that hundreds of thousands of people are being forcibly recruited by organised criminal gangs into online crimes in Southeast Asia. The report warns that victims are often misidentified as criminals or immigration offenders, and calls states to demonstrate the political will to tackle online and transnational crime and human trafficking.
A new report entitled ‘Online Scam Operations and Trafficking Into Forced Criminality in Southeast Asia: Recommendations For A Human Rights Response“, issued by the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR), found that hundreds of thousands of people are being forcibly recruited by organised criminal gangs into online crimes in Southeast Asia, including romance investment scams, crypto scams, and illegal gambling, among other crimes. The report found that the victims suffer a range of life-threatening conditions, including torture, arbitrary imprisonment, sexual violence, forced labor, and other human rights violations.
The report acknowledges that it is difficult to estimate the exact scale of online trafficking in the region. However, it referred to credible sources suggesting that at least 120,000 people may be held in Myanmar, where they are forced to engage in online crimes, and around 100,000 victims in Cambodia. Other countries in the region were identified as major destination or transit countries, including Lao PDR, the Philippines, and Thailand. It is also found that victims come from across the ASEAN region as well as mainland China, Taiwan, South Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
The report warns that victims are often misidentified as criminals or immigration offenders. Consequently, they are subjected to criminal prosecution instead of protection or rescue. Some countries in Southeast Asia have legal and policy frameworks to address trafficking, but they fall short of international standards and are not adequate to address online crimes.
Human trafficking and online crimes across the Southeast Asian region have been drastically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the OHCHR report finds. Many casino operations moved to less regulated spaces, and criminal actors increasingly targeted migrants in vulnerable situations for recruitment. They did so under the pretext of offering them genuine jobs. People who are forced to work in these fraudulent operations suffer inhumane treatment while being forced to commit crimes, as noted by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk. Thus, states are urged to take immediate action, ensure human rights protection, and improve governance and the rule of law.