Timor-Leste is a destination country for women and girls from Indonesia, China, and the Philippines subjected to sex trafficking. In previous years, men and boys from Burma, Cambodia, and Thailand were forced to work on foreign fishing boats operating in Timorese waters where they faced conditions of confinement, no medical care, and poor food; some escaped and swam ashore to seek refuge in Timor-Leste. There was no evidence that the practice has occurred since 2010 despite increased maritime patrols. In three instances, Timorese family members may have placed children in bonded domestic and agricultural labor in order to pay off family debts. Timor-Leste may also be a source of women or girls sent to Singapore and elsewhere in Southeast Asia for domestic servitude. Some migrant women recruited for work in Dili report being locked up upon arrival, and forced by brothel “bosses” and clients to use drugs or alcohol while providing sexual services. Some women victims kept in brothels were allowed to leave the brothel only if they paid the equivalent of approximately $20 per hour. Traffickers regularly retained the passports of victims, and reportedly rotated sex trafficking victims in and out of the country every few months. Transnational traffickers may be members of Indonesian or Chinese organized crime syndicates.
The Government of Timor-Leste does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the year, the National Police reported three investigations involving Timorese underage children in domestic services and referred the cases to the prosecutor’s office. However, the anti-trafficking legislation submitted to the Council of Ministers in early 2012 remained under review and government-allocated funding to an NGO shelter to assist trafficking victims was not expended because the government did not identify victims who needed the services. Victim identification remains weak in Timor-Leste, but law enforcement officials received limited training to address this gap.
Recommendations for Timor-Leste: Enact comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation; develop a national plan of action; continue efforts to investigate, prosecute, convict, and punish trafficking offenders; conduct additional training for judicial officials on investigation and prosecution methods, including how to integrate procedures for proper victim care throughout the duration of court proceedings; continue to implement procedures to proactively identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable populations, such as individuals in prostitution and workers on fishing vessels; develop and formally establish policies which clarify perceived inconsistencies in the country’s code of criminal procedure, thereby granting police the unambiguous authority to initiate investigations of crimes without the condition of having a victim self-identify; increase training for front-line law enforcement officers, especially in the vulnerable persons units and immigration police, on proper victim identification procedures and referral mechanisms, including recognition of trafficking victims who may possess their travel documents or may have entered the country legally; and develop and conduct public anti-trafficking information and education campaigns.
The Government of Timor-Leste demonstrated limited law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking during the reporting period. Comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation that had been submitted to the Council of Ministers in early 2012 remained under review at the close of this reporting period. Timor-Leste’s penal code prohibits and punishes the crime of trafficking through Articles 163, 164, and 165; Articles 162 and 166 prohibit slavery and the sale of persons. These articles prescribe sufficiently stringent penalties ranging from eight to 25 years’ imprisonment—penalties commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. During this reporting period, the government prosecuted only one alleged trafficker in a case involving seven alleged Indonesian victims. The Dili District Court acquitted the defendant, citing insufficient evidence. There were no trafficking convictions, compared to three from the previous reporting year. The National Police Vulnerable Persons Unit reported three investigations involving underage Timorese children in alleged domestic servitude; these cases have been referred to the Office of the Prosecutor General, where they remained at the end of this reporting period. Government officials, particularly law enforcement officers, received specialized training on investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases. In 2012, 236 government officials and civil society members attended IOM’s training events on the standard operating procedures for handling trafficking cases and victim identification techniques. In July 2012, 15 members of the government’s office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights and Justice attended a UNDP three-day “train-the-trainer” course on combating human trafficking. The Government of Timor-Leste did not report any investigations or prosecutions of government employees for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses during the reporting period.
The government demonstrated limited efforts to protect trafficking victims during the year. The aforementioned children found by the police in domestic service were returned home and did not receive government protection since they were not determined to be victims of trafficking until several months after their discovery. The government maintained a protocol of referring foreign victims to an international organization for care, though no such victims were identified during the year. The government did not operate any separate dedicated shelters for trafficking victims or provide victims with any protective services. During the year, the Ministry of Social Solidarity provided the equivalent of approximately $15,000 to support a local NGO shelter for trafficking victims, though none were assisted because no victims were identified who needed such services. Police continued to interpret an article in the Code of Criminal Procedure as granting investigative authority only to public prosecutors, which led to a general policy of only investigating cases in which persons identified themselves as victims. Additionally, the police often consider possession of a passport by a foreigner as an indication that he or she is not a victim of trafficking and further investigation of such cases was rare in the absence of self-identification. The government provides a temporary legal alternative to the removal of victims to countries where they may face retribution or hardship, allowing them to stay in Timor-Leste for two years. The government did not provide temporary or extended work visas to any trafficking victims during this reporting period because the government did not identify victims needing this assistance.
The Government of Timor-Leste made limited efforts to prevent incidents of trafficking during the reporting period. It increased patrols of its territorial waters to combat criminality, including forced labor on fishing vessels. These efforts did not, however, result in the identification of any trafficking cases during the year. During the two-day international conference hosted by the Timorese government, entitled “International Conference to Counter Trafficking in Women: Lessons for Timor Leste” in December 2012, President Taur Matan Ruak and Foreign Minister Jose Luis Guterres emphasized the need for comprehensive anti-trafficking efforts and promised to enact the anti-trafficking legislation and implement a national plan of action. A wide array of domestic and international participants shared information on trafficking-related issues and developed recommendations for future action. The government partially funded the UNDP “train-the-trainer” course and fully funded subsequent trainings for local officials. An NGO, in cooperation with the government, conducted over 1,000 pre-departure briefings for Timorese workers leaving to work abroad in government-sponsored programs, informing them of their labor rights and providing a point of contact if in trouble. The government’s inter-ministerial trafficking working group did not meet during 2012 and a draft national plan of action is on hold until parliament approves the pending legislation. Observers report that police raids on brothels in Dili have led to a decreased demand for commercial sex acts; however, due to a lack of proactive victim identification procedures, these anti-prostitution efforts may have led to some trafficking victims being punished for immigration violations.