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Saturday, July 20, 2024

LIBERIA’S ANTI-TRAFFICKING EFFORTS UNDER FIRE: DOWNGRADED TO TIER 2 WATCH LIST

Date:

MONROVIA – The U.S. Department of State released its 2024 Trafficking in Persons Report on Liberia on June 24, 2024, revealing significant challenges in the country’s efforts to combat human trafficking. Despite some progress, the report highlights that Liberia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, leading to its downgrade to the Tier 2 Watch List.

According to the report, the Government of Liberia has made efforts, such as completing renovations for two victim shelters and conducting awareness campaigns. However, these measures were not enough to demonstrate overall improvement compared to the previous reporting period. Notably, the government prosecuted fewer traffickers and failed to secure any convictions. Law enforcement officials continued to struggle with inadequate resources and a lack of understanding of trafficking crimes, hindering effective investigation and prosecution.

Victim services also remained insufficient, with a significant drop in the number of trafficking victims referred to care. The government did not allocate adequate funding for anti-trafficking efforts, and concerns about official complicity persisted.

The report outlines several prioritized recommendations for Liberia:

  • Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including those involved in internal trafficking and officials accused of complicity.
  • Enhance the availability of protection services for all trafficking victims, especially those outside the capital, male victims, and those requiring long-term care, by partnering with and allocating funding to civil society.
  • Allocate financial and in-kind resources to support anti-trafficking efforts, including the national anti-trafficking task force and implementation of the 2019-2024 National Action Plan (NAP).
  • Train officials, including law enforcement, labor inspectors, and social workers, on the use of standard victim identification procedures and the national referral mechanism to proactively identify and refer trafficking victims to care.
  • Improve collaboration between anti-trafficking police units, immigration, labor, and judicial authorities.

In terms of prosecution, the government’s efforts decreased. The Revised Act to Ban Trafficking in Persons, enacted in 2021, criminalizes sex and labor trafficking with minimum sentences of 20 years’ imprisonment. Despite this, only nine trafficking cases involving 13 suspects were investigated, with one prosecution initiated and no convictions secured, a decline from the previous reporting period. Officials continued to lack understanding of internal trafficking crimes, often viewing certain forms of trafficking as culturally acceptable practices.

On the protection front, the government identified 157 trafficking victims but referred significantly fewer to care compared to the previous period. While the government assisted in repatriating potential Liberian trafficking victims from Oman and provided some in-kind assistance, resource constraints limited the services available to victims, particularly in rural areas.

Prevention efforts also saw a decline, with the government not reporting any allocation of funds to combat human trafficking in the 2024 budget. Awareness campaigns were conducted, but labor inspections did not yield identification of trafficking victims.

The lack of significant progress and continued issues of corruption and official complicity have contributed to Liberia’s downgrade. The report also emphasized the need for more comprehensive training for law enforcement and judicial officials to better understand and handle trafficking cases.

Furthermore, the government’s reliance on NGOs and international organizations for funding and support highlights the necessity for increased domestic investment in anti-trafficking initiatives. The insufficient victim services, particularly outside the capital, underscore the disparity in resources and support available to trafficking victims across the country.

The report also notes the need for more robust labor inspections, particularly in informal sectors and mining regions, which are known hotspots for trafficking activities. Increasing these inspections and ensuring they are carried out effectively could lead to better identification and assistance for trafficking victims.

Moreover, the report points out the importance of improving public awareness about human trafficking. This includes educating the public on the signs of trafficking and the importance of reporting suspected cases. Enhanced public awareness can lead to more victims being identified and rescued.

The government’s collaboration with neighboring countries, such as Sierra Leone, on anti-trafficking law enforcement activities is a positive step. Strengthening these collaborations and expanding them to other neighboring countries could improve regional efforts to combat trafficking.

In conclusion, while the report acknowledges some efforts by the Liberian government to address trafficking, it clearly indicates that much more needs to be done. The downgrade to the Tier 2 Watch List serves as a call to action for the government to intensify its efforts, increase funding, and work more closely with civil society and international partners to combat human trafficking effectively.

Socrates Smythe Saywon
Socrates Smythe Saywon is a Liberian journalist. You can contact me at 0777425285 or 0886946925, or reach out via email at saywonsocrates@smartnewsliberia.com or saywonsocrates3@gmail.com.

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