Home News & Analysis GOL Faces Trafficking Huddles …State Department Report Reveals

GOL Faces Trafficking Huddles …State Department Report Reveals

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MONROVIA: The Government of Liberia (GOL), has failed to fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking for the second time in succession, but is making significant efforts to do so”, US State Department report on trafficking notes.

According to the US 2022 Report on Liberia, the police established a new anti-trafficking unit, and for the first time, the Ministry of Labor hired lawyers dedicated to prosecuting trafficking cases, but the government did not still meet the minimum standards in several key areas.

The report named insufficient shelter services for victims; lack of support from government to NGOs providing care to victims; lack of adequate resources for Law enforcement officials and understanding of trafficking to effectively investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes.

According to the US State Department Report, even though the government did not meet the required international standards, the GOL made several key efforts including the passing and enacting of a new trafficking law with provisions that removed the means element for child sex trafficking crimes; increasing investigations, prosecutions, and convictions; and allocating more funding to NGOs to conduct awareness- raising campaigns.

According to statistics comparing the past and current reports, the government investigated 13 trafficking cases, initiated prosecution of 12 defendants, and continued prosecuting nine defendants, an increase compared with seven case investigations and prosecutions of two defendants in the previous reporting period.

The courts convicted eight traffickers, compared to zero convictions during the previous reporting period, with one trafficker sentenced to six years’ imprisonment and seven traffickers whose sentences were pending.

“The government sometimes prosecuted and convicted crimes as human trafficking which lacked a clear element of exploitation. As of January 2021, Ministry of Labor’s (MOL) lawyers had the authority to prosecute trafficking and child labor cases, and hired eight lawyers to prosecute trafficking cases; the MOL prosecuted five trafficking cases, compared to one case during the previous reporting period,” the report added.

“Officials continued to lack understanding of internal trafficking, and some continued to view forms of trafficking, especially forced labor of children in domestic servitude, as a community practice rather than a crime. Prosecutors may have pursued other charges, including rape and child endangerment in lieu of sex trafficking or child forced labor, due to a lack of understanding of human trafficking,” the report added.

The report says, for the second consecutive year, the government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year.

The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity, which as therefore upgraded the country to Tier 2.

The government increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The government passed and enacted the Revised Act to Ban Trafficking in Persons within the Republic of Liberia, in September 2021, which amended the 2005 Act to Ban Trafficking in Persons and brought Liberia’s trafficking laws in line with international law.

“The Revised Act criminalized all forms of sex and labor trafficking and prescribed minimum sentences of 20 years imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Article 1-104(f) defined “exploitation” broadly to include child pornography, which was inconsistent with international law,” the report discloses.

Furthermore, the report asserted that the Liberian National Police (LNP) establishment of a new Anti-Trafficking in Persons Unit in December 2021, with its Women and Children Protection Section (WACPS) also boring primary responsibility for investigating trafficking cases, while the Liberian Immigration Service (LIS) and Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency investigated transnational trafficking cases.

The LIS Anti-Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Unit, comprising 14 officers, stationed at least one officer at each of Liberia’s five major ports of entry and other minor ports of entry.

The government did not provide the LNP with dedicated anti-trafficking funding or in-kind support, and it lacked basic resources and equipment to fully respond to and investigate allegations of trafficking, especially outside the capital.

“Courts operated at reduced capacity and processed fewer cases due to pandemic-related restrictions.

The pandemic also reduced law enforcement’s capacity to conduct investigations; authorities reassigned law enforcement officers to enforce public health measures, diminishing police presence at stations, depots, and border posts”, the report explained.

The report continues by recalling how the government coordinated with an international organization to incorporate training on human trafficking into the National Police Academy’s basic training course and to roll out new training curricula and a legal handbook on human trafficking for prosecutors and judges and provided some support to an international organization to train law enforcement and judicial officials on conducting trafficking investigations and identifying victims.

However, the reports says, officials and NGOs reported many labor inspectors, police, prosecutors, and judges who remained unable to identify trafficking and lacked sufficient resources, impeding trafficking investigations and prosecutions.

Meanwhile, the government on protection of victims, increased efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims and reported identified 35 trafficking victims, compared with identifying 29 during the previous reporting period.

Of the 35 victims, authorities identified four victims from Nigeria and two from Sierra Leone; with government providing shelter and basic necessities to the six victims while they waited to testify in a trafficking case.

In addition, the government reported that it provided short-term accommodation in a government-run shelter to the 27 Liberian victims among the 35 identified. The government had standard operating procedures and a national referral mechanism to identify trafficking victims and refer them to care.

However, law enforcement, immigration, and social services personnel lacked training on such procedures and, at times, misidentified trafficking victims as victims of other crimes.

According to the report, resource constraints limited services for trafficking victims was another serious concern as the government of Liberia relied heavily on NGOs and private shelters when government shelters were unavailable but did not report providing financial or in-kind assistance to those shelters.

“Shelter and services were available to both domestic and foreign victims. There was no shelter available specifically for adult male victims, although some MOGCSP and private shelters could accommodate young boys, and one shelter occasionally housed male and female victims together.

Adult victims were only allowed to leave the shelters at will on an ad hoc basis. Shelters sometimes could not protect victims’ identities, and victims could usually stay only three to six months due to capacity limitations. MOGSCP could arrange foster care for victims requiring longer-term care. The government assisted in repatriating potential Liberian trafficking victims from Oman”, the report notes.

Still with more details on the report, government did not systematically encourage victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions of their traffickers, but at times provided victim-witnesses support to offset the costs of participating in a trial; during the reporting period, the government provided some funding for transportation and lodging to assist victims’ participation in prosecutions. The anti-trafficking law allowed victims to obtain restitution, but courts did not issue restitution in any cases during the reporting period.

Victims could file civil suits against their traffickers; no victims filed civil suits during the reporting period, largely due to lack of awareness of this option. The government did not have a formal policy that provided alternatives to removal to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship, but could offer alternatives, including temporary residency, on a case-by-case basis. There were no reports the government detained or otherwise penalized trafficking victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit; however, due to a lack of training, insufficient resources, and inconsistent application of victim identification procedures, authorities may have detained unidentified victims.

Going further, the government was able to increased efforts to prevent human trafficking. The Ministry Labor coordinated the government’s anti-trafficking efforts and co- chaired the anti-trafficking task force with the Ministry of Justice. The task force also included representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Internal Affairs, and MOGCSP; it continued to meet regularly during the reporting period. The government allocated $275,000 to combat human trafficking in the 2022 budget, substantially more than the $50,000 allocated in the 2020-2021 budget.

The government allocated $15,000 to 10 local NGOs conducting awareness raising campaigns on trafficking and child labor and to distribute copies of the newly-amended trafficking law in all of Liberia’s 15 counties to local officials, an increase from $5,000 allocated to five NGOs in 2021. The government continued implementing the 2019-2024 action plan to combat trafficking in persons.

It can be recalled, In April 2021, Labor Minister Cllr. Charles Gibson convened simultaneous trafficking task force meetings in 14 of Liberia’s 15 counties with support from an international organization.

Local officials around the country provided updates from their respective regions. The MOL continued to operate an anti-trafficking hotline during business hours and hired two additional staff members to manage the calls.

The government received 2,679 calls and identified six victims whose cases were referred to the LNP for investigation while at the same time, government conducted 556 labor inspections, including 43 inspections specifically focused on child labor.
Despite this, labor inspectors did not report identifying any child labor or trafficking victims. Labor inspectors were not trained on laws related to child labor nor on their enforcement.

The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Liberia, and traffickers exploit victims from Liberia abroad. Trafficking within the country is more prevalent than transnational trafficking, and the majority of victims are children.

Traffickers recruit and exploit most trafficking victims within the country’s borders in domestic servitude, forced begging, sex trafficking, or forced labor in street vending, gold and alluvial diamond mines, and on small-scale rubber plantations.

Traffickers typically operate independently and are commonly family members who promise poorer relatives a better life for their children or promise young women a better life for themselves.

Traffickers are also often well-respected community members who exploit the “foster care” system common across West Africa. Liberian law requires parents to register children within 14 days of birth; while about two-thirds of children younger than the age of five are registered, only about 30 percent have obtained a birth certificate. Although the government has expanded birth registration accessibility, continued lack of birth registration and identity documents increases individuals’ vulnerability to trafficking.

Traffickers exploited a small number of Liberian men, women, and children in other West African countries, including Ivory Coast, Guinea, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. In the past, traffickers exploited Liberian victims in Thailand, Lebanon, and Finland. Some government employees may have been directly complicit in child trafficking, including for domestic service and street vending, and reports indicate law enforcement occasionally accept bribes from suspected traffickers.

However, there are several priority areas that have been recommended to the government of Liberia which have been covered in this report: that the government Expand victim services particularly for victims outside the capital, males, and victims requiring long-term care.

Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases, including internal trafficking cases and officials accused of complicity. Train labor inspectors and social workers on standard victim identification procedures and the national referral mechanism.

Improve collaboration between anti-trafficking police units, immigration, labor, and judicial authorities and allocate financial and in-kind resources, as feasible, dedicated to anti-trafficking law enforcement activities. Increase financial or in-kind support to NGOs that support trafficking victims.

Train law enforcement and judicial officials on identifying, investigating, and prosecuting trafficking cases under the revised 2021 anti-trafficking law. Increase labor inspections in the informal sector and mining regions to improve identification of trafficking cases, including child forced labor.

Increase efforts to raise public awareness of human trafficking, including internal trafficking. Allocate financial and in-kind resources, as feasible, to the anti-trafficking task force and to Screen foreign workers, including Cuban overseas workers and People’s Republic of China (PRC) nationals employed at PRC national-run worksites, for forced labor indicators and refer identified forced labor victims to appropriate services.

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