August 23, 2023
JAKARTA – Southeast Asian nations pledged to provide better protection to victims and witnesses of human trafficking and other transnational crimes, the states declared during a recent regional police meeting.
Delegations of member states agreed on four declarations during the 17th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime in Labuan Bajo, East Nusa Tenggara on Monday. During the meeting, the delegations discussed measures to fight transnational crimes, such as human trafficking, terrorism, money laundering and drug and arms smuggling.
The meeting, scheduled to run from Monday to Wednesday, was led by National Police chief Gen. Listyo Sigit Prabowo.
The victim protection declaration, called the ASEAN Declaration on Strengthening Cooperation in Protecting and Assisting Witnesses and Victims of Transnational Crime, was proposed by Indonesia, which recently intensified crackdowns on human trafficking.
“The declaration will push for similar commitments from ASEAN states in drafting policies about protecting witnesses and victims of transnational crimes, especially in cases of human trafficking and terrorism,” said National Police spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ahmad Ramadhan in a statement on Monday.
Two days before the Labuan Bajo meeting kicked off, the National Police named at least 900 suspects in various human trafficking cases across the country. The police have opened investigations into at least 600 alleged human trafficking cases since May.
Indonesian police intensified their investigation into human trafficking following President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s instruction to Listyo to prosecute criminals that prey on job seekers. The President also instructed the national police chief to take action against police officers who assisted or enabled human traffickers.
Thousands of people are believed to fall victim to social media posts promising well-paid jobs in another country, only to then be held captive and forced to defraud strangers online.
Authorities across Southeast Asia have rescued thousands of victims since May, most of whom were held in large compounds in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar and forced to launch various online scams.
During the summit in May, ASEAN leaders pledged to crack down on online scams operated by human traffickers and called for a regional approach to combat human trafficking. The efforts will include enhancing law enforcement’s capacity to investigate, collect data, exchange information and conduct joint exercises.
Keeping ASEAN safe and peaceful
Aside from the victim and witness protection declaration, delegations also signed the Labuan Bajo Declaration, which focuses on advancing member states’ capacity to prosecute transnational crimes through regional cooperation.
The Labuan Bajo declaration shows ASEAN’s renewed commitment to improve cooperation in identifying, investigating and prosecuting transnational crimes, which includes a guarantee for secure information exchanges, said Ahmad of the National Police.
Another declaration proposed by Indonesia during the meeting covers regional early warning and response capability development in preventing and countering the rise of radicalization and violent extremism.
Some ASEAN countries, including Indonesia, still face threats from violent extremists.
The National Police’s Densus 88 counterterrorism squad recently arrested an employee of state-owned railway company PT Kereta Api Indonesia suspected of being an Islamic State (IS) sympathizer. Investigators alleged him of actively campaigning for jihad on social media accounts and raising funds for IS.
The police seized hundreds of rounds of ammunition and more than a dozen firearms, including pistols, rifles and airsoft guns that have been converted into real guns.
The fourth declaration passed in Labuan Bajo, proposed by Cambodia, was an agreement to combat arms smuggling.
President Jokowi, who opened the meeting virtually, said that ASEAN nations needed to cooperate to fight transnational crimes, which had “become massive” due to the technological advancement. He hoped the meeting would produce strategic measures to “keep ASEAN safe, peaceful and prosperous.”
Indonesia also signed six bilateral cooperation agreements with police and law enforcement institutions from other ASEAN members, namely Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia and Singapore. The bilateral agreements cover measures to jointly prevent, prosecute and build capacity to fight transnational crimes.