Sun, Dec 11, 2011 - Page 2 News List

Boat People SOS group wins human rights award

HUMAN RIGHTS:The Vietnamese American organization advocates for refugees and fights human trafficking, and says that Taiwan has made enormous strides on that front

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  Staff Reporter

Legislative Speaker and Taiwan Foundation for Democracy chairman Wang Jin-pyng, left, applauds during a ceremony in Taipei yesterday as President Ma Ying-jeou, center, presents the sixth Asian Democracy and Human Rights Award to Boat People SOS executive director Nguyen Oinh Thang.

Photo: Fang Pin-chao, Taipei Times

Expanding democracy is only the effective strategy to eventually eliminate modern-day slavery and achieve human rights and social justice, the winner of the sixth Asian Democracy and Human Rights Award (ADHRA) said yesterday.

“It is not coincidence that a vast number of countries with good human rights records have a democratic system of governance” because it requires not only a top-down approach to implement national policy, but also the involvement of grassroots civil society to crack down on human trafficking, said Boat People SOS (BPSOS) executive director Nguyen Oinh Thang, whose group won this year’s ADHRA, in his acceptance speech before the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (TFD) at the award ceremony in Taipei.

Founded in 1980, the national Vietnamese American community organization, has dedicated itself to assisting asylum seekers to resettle their lives in various countries through cooperation with state governments and non-governmental organizations worldwide.

It also aims to build a solid civil society in Asia through direct intervention in individual refugee and human-trafficking cases and advocacy of law and fact-based policies in democratic countries that address how non-democratic governments suppress their people.

Having worked with countries including Russia, Japan, Canada, Philippines and many others, Thang said that he had never seen a country like Taiwan, which has such a strong determination and political will to combat human-trafficking and which has made so much progress in such a short time.

However, he said there was a long-standing problem in Taiwan concerning the lack of institutional protection for migrant workers employed as domestic helpers, saying Taiwan’s Human -Trafficking -Prevention Act (人口販運防制法) “has yet to protect the nursing and home care industry.”

Despite that, Thang said the efforts made by Taiwan in anti-human trafficking was highly recognized, saying that Taiwan has been placed in the “Tier 1” category of the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report for the second year in a row.

The secret behind Taiwan’s successful story, Thang said, was cooperation and partnership between the government and anonymous individuals, as well as non--governmental organizations, in rescuing victims and enforcing the Human Trafficking Prevention Act.

In the early years of its establishment, BPSOS persuaded governments to launch coordinated efforts to fight pirates in the Gulf of Thailand and rescued more than 3,300 Vietnamese boat people at sea and brought them to safety.

In the early 1990s, as more governments established diplomatic ties with Vietnam’s communist government, despite its refusal to respect human rights and freedom, and redefined Vietnamese boat people as economic migrants rather than freedom seekers, BPSOS confronted this threat and advocated the internationally recognized principle of “non-refoulement,” which calls for the protection of refugees from return to countries where their lives or freedoms might be threatened.

Since 1999, BPSOS has fought the global explosion of human trafficking, especially in labor exports. With its headquarters located in the US, BPSOS now has 18 offices across the US, and four more in Taiwan and Southeast Asia.

Thang received a trophy from President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and a US$100,000 cash prize from Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), who also serves as TFD chairman.

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