Myanmar Rights Commission to Probe Fishery Slave Claims

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 28 November 2019

Yangon – Myanmar’s Human Rights Commission will be conducting an inspection of the fishery sector at Pyapon Township in Ayeyarwady Region after slavery cases involving its fishing rafts attracted public criticism.

U Yu Lwin Aung, a senior member of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the findings and recommendations of the commission would be submitted to the human trafficking police, the Fisheries Department and other government agencies to avoid similar issues in the future.

Fishing rafts are mostly bamboo structures that accommodate at most five people. They stay on the open sea for around eight months without returning to the shore through the dry season from September to May. They reportedly work around the clock, casting nets and sorting and sun-drying the catch in an exhausting schedule.

Their main catches are small fish and shrimps to produce ngapi or fish paste, which is used in numerous dishes in Myanmar and Thailand.

The offshore rafts have long been associated with forced labor, slavery and human trafficking.

A recent case of a university student trafficked on a fishing raft made the headlines.

Ko Myat Thura Tun, 20, told The Irrawaddy that he was sent to work on a raft in October in Pyapon Township. He was rescued after his brother, who had been searching for him since his disappearance, paid a ransom of 700,000 kyats (US$464) to the raft owner a month later.

University student Ko Myat Thura Tun, a trafficking victim, in his house after he was saved from a fishing raft in Pyapon Township, Ayeyarwady Region. / Aung Kyaw Htet

The victim said he was sent off on a fishing raft by two women who said he would be paid 2 million kyats. The wages never appeared.

Ko Myat Thura Tun was left with a broken arm, an ear disfigured by the raft supervisor and a swollen face from beatings.

Yangon’s anti-human trafficking police have charged seven people over the student’s case.

Colonel Myo Thu Soe, deputy head of Myanmar’s Anti-Human Trafficking Police, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the victims were cheated and sold to fishing rafts in Pyapon’s fishing industry without being paid, violating trafficking laws.

U Yu Lwin Aung said inspections would start in early December and last about a week.

“This is an anti-human trafficking case, as well as addressing slavery and torture,” he said.

The fishery department said Pyapon Township had more than 1,200 registered fishing rafts but many unregistered rafts were also operating at sea.

During the 2018-19 fishing season, there were more than 200 deaths reported on Pyapon’s rafts.

The rights commission was established in 2011 to promote and safeguard constitutional rights.

It conducts inspections of prisons and police cells and reports on the wellbeing of inmates.


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