Menendez urges Obama to press Malaysia on human rights

A top Democratic senator on Thursday urged President Obama to press Malaysia on what steps are being taken to improve human rights.

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezForeign Relations Democrat calls on Iran to release other American prisoners GOP senator blocks Armenian genocide resolution The job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' MORE of New Jersey urged the president to use his visit to Kuala Lumpur to ensure Malaysian leaders understand that Congress is closely monitoring the nation’s commitments “to combat their serious problems with human trafficking.”

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Menendez said that a bilateral meeting between Obama and Prime Minister Najib Razak presents a “prime opportunity to convey that future progress to address human trafficking remains one of the top priorities for the U.S. government in our bilateral relationship.”

The senator, who has been pressing the State Department for more details on why Malaysia was upgraded in the latest Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report released four months ago, outlined four issues he wants the president to tackle with the nation's leader before returning to the United States. 

He argued that there are continuing concerns about whether Malaysia’s actions to improve their record merited an upgrade.

Menendez asked the president to get updates on the status of recommended changes to anti-trafficking laws to allow victims to travel, work and reside outside government facilities. 

He also wants Obama to push for updated data on the number of investigations, prosecutions and convictions for human trafficking crimes since April 1, which is the start of the 2016 assessment period for next year's TIP report. 

In addition, Menendez wants more information about whether Malaysia is increasing funding to non-governmental organizations that will provide legal help and counseling for victims.

He also wants Obama to ask about the status and findings of any investigation into the camps and mass graves discovered at the Thailand-Malaysia border earlier this year.

Malaysia is part of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the upgrade — to Tier 2 from the lowest level of Tier 3 — ensures that fast-track authority could remain in place for the agreement to move through Congress.