President Weah’s Fight against Human Trafficking Yields Results

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The US government has upgraded Liberia’s ranking in the fight against human trafficking within just a year since the country was criticized for doing little to combat the crime.

The upgrade, which moved Liberia to Tier Two of the US government’s annual report on Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP), is a reflection of the progress being made by the administration of President George Weah to counter human trafficking, under difficult circumstances.

Just a year ago, Liberia was demoted to the reported Tier 3 Watch List — indicating that the Weah administration was not in full compliance with prohibiting trafficking in persons and punishing acts of such trafficking.

But the US government, via its Department of State 2022 annual human trafficking report, which ranks governments by their efforts to combat human trafficking in all forms, claimed that the government of Liberia had made efforts since the downgrade period to increase measures to combat trafficking.

The report’s three-tier system divides nations into tiers based on their compliance with standards outlined in the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 — with Tier 1 made up of countries whose governments fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards.

While Tier 2 countries’ governments do not fully comply with all of the act’s minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards and Tier 3 is made up of countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.

“The Government of Liberia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. 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; therefore Liberia was upgraded to Tier 2,” the report said.

Of these efforts, the report highlighted the passage and enactment of “a new trafficking law, increase investigations, prosecutions, and convictions; and allocating more funding to NGOs to conduct awareness-raising campaigns.

It also pointed to the government’s decision to investigate 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; as some of the reasons for the upgrade.

“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 increased efforts to prevent human trafficking.

“The government increased efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims. The government reported it 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; the government provided shelter and necessities to the six victims while they waited to testify in a trafficking case.”

In addition, provision of 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.

The report also highlighted the government’s allocation of US$275,000 to combat human trafficking in the 2022 budget, which is substantially more than the US$50,000 allocated in the 2020-2021 budget, as well as the police establishment of a new anti-trafficking unit, as some demonstrative effort made by the government to combat trafficking in persons.

Human traffickers in Liberia exploit domestic and foreign victims and cases within the country are more prevalent than transnational trafficking. The majority of victims are children, according to the report.

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

And that they 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, the US government report disclosed.

The TIP report is the US government’s principal diplomatic and diagnostic tool to guide relations with foreign governments on human trafficking. It is also the world’s most comprehensive resource of governmental anti-trafficking efforts and reflects the U.S. government’s commitment to global leadership on this key human rights, law enforcement, and national security issue.

As required by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the TIP Report assesses government efforts around the world to combat human trafficking and highlights strategies to address this crime and protect the victims. This year’s report, the 22nd instalment, includes narratives for 188 countries and territories, including the United States.

Highlighting how the Liberian government had failed to meet minimum standards in several key areas, the US report cited the government’s failure to systematically encourage trafficking victims to obtain restitution, even though the anti-trafficking law allowed such.

This and other issues, the report added, contributed to Liberia’s “overall lack of progress”, particularly given the fact that in none of the cases did the government prosecutors pursue any form of restitution; and victims’ lack of knowledge of the trafficking law means they could not file civil suits against their traffickers.

“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.”

“Officials continued to lack understanding of internal trafficking, and some continued to view forms of trafficking, especially forced labour 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 labour, due to a lack of understanding of human trafficking.”

“For the second consecutive year, the report said that the Weah government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offences; “however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year.”

In the case of shelter, the report found that while numerous victims were identified, shelter services for victims remained insufficient, and the government did not support NGOs providing care to victims.

It added that shelter and services were available to both domestic and foreign victims, it sometimes could not protect victims’ identities, and victims could usually stay only three to six months due to capacity limitations and they were overcrowded and lacked funds.

“Poor maintenance and lack of staff training and capacity reportedly created inhospitable living conditions, which caused some victims to leave the shelter. And law enforcement officials continued to lack adequate resources and understanding of trafficking to effectively investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes. Also, lacked training on such procedures and, at times, misidentified trafficking victims as victims of other crimes.”

(Original story on Liberian Observer)

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