PALAU: Tier 2
Palau is a destination country for women subjected to sex trafficking and for women and men subjected to forced labor. Palau’s foreign population, about one-third of the country’s population of 21,000, is the most vulnerable to trafficking. Filipino, Bangladeshi, Nepalese, Chinese, and Korean men and women pay thousands of dollars in recruitment fees and willingly migrate to Palau for jobs in domestic service, agriculture, restaurants, or construction; upon arrival, some are forced to work in conditions substantially different from what had been presented in contracts or recruitment offers, and some become trafficking victims. Women from China and the Philippines are recruited to work in Palau as waitresses or clerks, but some are subsequently forced into prostitution in karaoke bars or massage parlors—many operated by Taiwanese, Filipino, or Palauan nationals. Foreign workers on fishing boats in Palau waters experience conditions indicative of human trafficking. Regulations that make it difficult for foreign workers to change employers once they arrive in Palau place foreign workers at increased risk of involuntary servitude and debt bondage. Official complicity plays a role in facilitating trafficking; government officials—including a governor, a police officer, a labor official, and an immigration official—have been investigated for complicity in trafficking crimes during previous reporting periods.
The Government of Palau does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. In 2015, the government initiated two investigations of trafficking cases, assisted potential victims involved in court cases to find new employment, and convicted one labor trafficker. The government instituted a sex offender registry and deported some fraudulent labor recruiters. It held weekly anti-trafficking taskforce meetings. The government, however, did not apply sufficiently stringent punishments, as it regularly charged suspected traffickers with lesser crimes and sentenced convicted traffickers to probation or inadequate prison sentences. The government did not provide shelter or protection services to identified victims.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PALAU:
Using the 2005 anti-trafficking law, increase efforts to investigate and criminally prosecute trafficking offenses, convict sex and labor traffickers, and impose stringent penalties on convicted traffickers—including complicit officials; establish formal procedures for front-line officers to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups and increase availability of protective services; use funds obtained through asset seizure or fines on convicted traffickers to support victims; increase financial and human resources devoted to victim protection efforts; do not penalize trafficking victims for illegal acts committed as a result of trafficking; develop systematic procedures to provide necessary authorization for foreign victims to remain in the country and obtain alternate employment; develop a national action plan to combat trafficking; implement anti-trafficking information and education campaigns targeting vulnerable populations; enforce laws punishing employment agents for illegal practices that facilitate trafficking; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
The government modestly increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, but did not impose sufficiently stringent penalties on convicted traffickers. Palau’s Anti-Smuggling and Trafficking Act of 2005 prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons and prescribes penalties for these offenses ranging from 10 to 50 years’ imprisonment and fines of up to $500,000; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government prosecuted most suspected traffickers with labor violations or prostitution-related offenses instead of trafficking crimes that carry more severe penalties; offenders convicted under these other statutes received probation or nominal prison sentences.
The attorney general’s office held weekly anti-trafficking taskforce meetings with labor and immigration officers to focus on investigations and build cases. The government investigated one case of sex trafficking that involved three traffickers and six victims who were subjected to debt bondage, passport confiscation, and forced prostitution at bars. The government convicted two of the traffickers for misdemeanor labor and assault violations and sentenced them to probation, while a third is awaiting trial. Some of the traffickers are repeat offenders who faced similar charges in a separate, prior case. One defendant involved in a December 2012 sex trafficking case, previously allowed to travel to his home country, remained abroad. The government investigated and prosecuted one labor trafficking case involving two foreign labor recruiters. One perpetrator entered a plea agreement in which he pled guilty to labor trafficking and was voluntarily deported. The other is pending trial. During the reporting period, the government charged one labor official for misconduct that contributed to foreign nationals becoming trafficking victims in Palau. Given previous cases of official complicity in trafficking, the government ordered labor and immigration officials to file criminal citations rather than civil fines, which are not subject to public scrutiny, when labor violations were discovered, in an attempt to increase transparency.
The government made limited efforts to identify and protect victims. In 2015, the government reported its identification of 32 potential trafficking victims from civil and criminal cases filed. While identified victims were given access to a government counselor, the government did not fund or provide any additional protective services for victims; nor did it report whether any victims received shelter or support from other entities. The lack of support services reportedly led some potential trafficking victims to leave the country rather than pursue legal recourse. Although several trafficking-related convictions in 2014 included fines or asset forfeiture, none of these funds were used to support victims. The government did not train officers to identify victims proactively among vulnerable populations, such as foreign workers or women in prostitution. It offered only short-term legal alternatives, on an ad hoc basis, to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they might face hardship or retribution; the attorney general could designate victims as “vulnerable,” making them eligible for alternate employment and accommodation assistance. During the year, the government assisted some victims who filed cases against their employers to seek other employment. The government did not provide witness protection. There were reports that victims were sometimes detained, fined, or jailed for unlawful acts committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking.
The government made modest efforts to prevent trafficking. It prohibited entry into the country for some foreign recruiters implicated in cases of charging migrant workers excessive fees and failing to provide employment opportunities, although it denied their entry due to visa violations rather than criminally charging them. The government instituted a sex offender registry during the reporting period that requires all visitors to Palau with a conviction for a sexual offense to register in an attempt to deter child sex tourism. The government neither developed a national action plan against trafficking nor conducted educational or anti-trafficking public awareness campaigns. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor or commercial sex acts. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. Palau is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.