Human trafficking and ethnic minority problems in Myanmar: Policy recommendations for Myanmar and neighbouring states

Seunghyun Han has a Masters of Arts in International Relations and Economics from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). During his school year, he worked as Research Assistant at the Center for Constitutional Studies and Democratic Development (CCSDD) in Italy, where he researched the practicality of the Preamble in South Korean Constitution and the role of the Preamble in the process of democratisation in South Korea. He recently worked as a researcher at Foreign Policy Analytics under the Foreign Policy Group in Washington DC.

Seunghyun’s paper, Human Trafficking and Ethnic Minority Problems in Myanmar: Policy Recommendations for Myanmar and Neighbouring States, is published in the 2017 edition of The Public Sphere, available to read online here. This piece is part of a series of articles contributed by authors featured in this year’s issue.


In 2016, the National League for Democracy (NLD) party led by Aung San Suu Kyi won the majority in Myanmar’s parliamentary elections, taking control of the government away from the longstanding military regime. The election process received widespread praise from both domestic and international audiences for the peaceful democratic transition of power to the first non-autocratic governing body in Myanmar. However, despite high expectations for the new administration about resolving long-standing social tensions, conflict among minority groups and human trafficking remain critical issues.

“Siren Human Trafficking Data Sheet,” United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNAIP), March 2009.

Human trafficking has been prevalent both within Myanmar and across neighbouring states. Addressing human trafficking is a multi-faceted challenge, but minority conflict in Myanmar, especially armed conflict, is the largest cause for widespread trafficking. In my paper published in the 2017 edition of The Public Sphere Journal, I argue that as conflicts between the Myanmar government and minority populations increased, the prevalence of human trafficking also increased, particularly among ethnic minorities.

The interrelationship between human trafficking and armed conflict can be explained by the traditional crime-conflict nexus, which posits that armed conflicts can create conditions for organised criminal activities such as human trafficking. To begin with, ethnic minority groups in Myanmar believe that human trafficking is prevalent within their region largely because the Burma-majority Myanmar government has failed to protect minorities from discrimination and criminal activities. Thus, to defend themselves, minority populations militarise for the sake of self-protection. As the Myanmar government views the militarisation of minority groups as a threat, this leads to increased tensions and ultimately armed conflict between those two groups. Violence and armed conflict, largely in the regions inhabited by minorities, results in widespread displacement of people from their homes and an increase in insecurity, which puts them at greater risk of falling into human trafficking networks.

To resolve the human trafficking problem in Myanmar, it’s clear the Myanmar government must first end armed conflict between the ethnic minority groups and the government and address the core minority grievances. In my paper, I make four recommendations to Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration and its neighbouring states: (i) develop effective measures to address the core grievances of ethnic minorities’ problems; (ii) proactively develop policies for both sex and labour trafficking offenses, especially for trafficking minority groups; (iii) develop joint efforts with Myanmar’s neighbouring countries to monitor cross-border human trafficking within the region; and (iv) engage in dialogue with its neighbouring countries regarding existing undocumented immigrants from Myanmar to its neighbouring states. I believe that these four measures can truly tackle the root of human trafficking as well as can improve relations and trust between the Myanmar administration and the ethnic minority population.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *