LIBERIA: Tier 2 Watch List
The Government of Liberia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government provided emergency funding to temporarily shelter 25 potential child trafficking victims and prosecuted one trafficking case. However, the government did not demonstrate increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. The government did not provide training or basic resources to law enforcement or prosecutors to allow them to effectively identify, investigate, and prosecute trafficking cases; complicity and corruption continued to inhibit anti-trafficking law enforcement action; and for the third consecutive year, the government did not convict any traffickers. Victim care remained sparse and provided primarily by NGOs without government support, and the government did not allocate any funding specifically for anti-trafficking activities in its 2016 budget. Therefore, Liberia was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR LIBERIA
Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including complicit officials and cases against Liberian nationals; provide training and resources to enable law enforcement, immigration officials, social workers, prosecutors, and magistrates to identify, investigate, and prosecute trafficking offenses; increase collaboration with NGOs to ensure all victims receive services and that NGOs refer all alleged trafficking cases to law enforcement for investigation; finalize and implement the national referral mechanism and train law enforcement and social service workers and sensitize NGOs on its implementation; enact legislation that prescribes sufficiently stringent penalties for adult trafficking and penalties for sex trafficking commensurate with the penalties for rape; expand victim services—particularly for male victims, victims outside the capital, and long-term care—through the provision of increased financial or in-kind support to NGOs; create measures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as people in prostitution, and train officials on such procedures; provide the anti-trafficking taskforce with an operating budget, a victim protection budget, and resources to effectively implement the 2014-2019 national action plan; staff the anti-trafficking hotline in the evenings and at night; increase efforts to educate the public, particularly in rural areas, about human trafficking; and assist citizens with registering births and obtaining identity documents.
The government maintained minimal anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2005 Act to Ban Trafficking in Persons prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes a minimum sentence of one year’s imprisonment for the trafficking of adults and six years imprisonment for the trafficking of children, but does not include a maximum sentence for the trafficking of adults. The prescribed penalties for child sex and labor trafficking are sufficiently stringent, but those prescribed for trafficking of adults are not. The penalties for adult and child sex trafficking are not commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape.
The government reported four investigations, two prosecutions, and no convictions during the reporting period, compared with two investigations, two prosecutions, and no convictions the previous reporting period. It initiated two potential trafficking investigations and continued two investigations and prosecutions initiated during previous reporting periods. One prosecution involved a foreigner residing in Liberia allegedly responsible for the exploitation of 16 Liberian women in Lebanon. The first trial began in September 2015 and resulted in a hung jury in January 2016; the second trial began in March 2016 and the judge acquitted the defendant of all charges in September 2016. The alleged middleman in the case remained at large. The second prosecution involving four defendants, including two Liberians, charged with migrant smuggling and human trafficking for attempting to sell a Sierra Leonean girl was ongoing at the end of the reporting period. Despite the identification of four trafficking victims through a joint government-NGO hotline, the absence of collaboration between government entities and some victims’ reluctance to press charges against alleged traffickers resulted in law enforcement not investigating any traffickers in connection with the cases. The government has not convicted any traffickers in three consecutive years and has never convicted a Liberian trafficker under the 2005 law, despite the prevalence of internal trafficking.
The Women and Children Protection Section (WACPS) of the Liberian National Police (LNP) was responsible for investigating trafficking cases. LNP did not receive any dedicated anti-trafficking funding or in-kind support, and therefore lacked the basic resources and investigative equipment to fully respond to and investigate allegations of trafficking, especially outside the capital. The government did not provide or support anti-trafficking training for officials, and labor inspectors, police, prosecutors, and judges lacked the skills and knowledge necessary to identify, investigate, and prosecute trafficking offenses. Unlike in previous years, LNP section heads did not receive training on reporting suspected trafficking cases to the WACPS. Anti-trafficking training was a component of the WACPS mandatory orientation for new officers, but it was unclear how many WACPS officers received this training during the reporting period. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses; however, serious complicity allegations and judicial corruption remained, inhibiting anti-trafficking law enforcement action during the reporting period. NGOs and officials alleged some government employees had child domestic servants and exploited children in street hawking.
The government maintained modest efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims. The government and NGOs identified five potential trafficking victims, compared with two identified the previous reporting period, and provided assistance to 25 suspected trafficking victims repatriated from Guinea and one victim identified the previous reporting period. The taskforce, in coordination with the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection (MOGCSP), was responsible for coordinating victim care. It did not receive a budget for victim protection, so it either referred victims to NGOs or requested emergency funds from MOGCSP to care for specific trafficking victims. MOGCSP provided emergency funding to shelter 25 potential Liberian child trafficking victims after their repatriation from Guinea. The government had one shelter for victims of sexual and gender-based violence run by MOGCSP that could also accommodate trafficking victims. It could not provide trafficking-specific services or accommodate long-term stays, however, so authorities referred most victims to NGO shelters or private facilities for abused women and girls. NGO shelters and MOGCSP facilities could in theory care for male victims, although none reported having a male trafficking victim requiring care. The Ministry of Health provided some medical and psycho-social support to the 2015 victim and the 25 potential trafficking victims. In part due to a lack of communication between the government and NGOs, the government did not report providing services to the five potential trafficking victims identified during the reporting period. An NGO referred four potential trafficking victims to an NGO shelter and one potential victim to a community member for temporary shelter because the NGO and government shelters were full. The government relied on one NGO shelter for sexual and gender-based violence victims to provide all other trafficking victim care, including shelter, legal representation, food, vocational training, and family reunification. The NGO shelter could care for both foreign and domestic trafficking victims, among other victims of crime. Shelters often limited victims’ stays to three months, due to a lack of space. Shelter and services for males and services specifically for victims with disabilities were extremely limited or unavailable in most of the country. Adult victims were sometimes allowed to leave the shelters at will; in some cases, however, shelter workers restricted victims from leaving, citing concerns reportedly for their safety and/or to protect the integrity of the testimony at trial. Shelters often could not protect victims’ identities. The government did not provide any financial assistance to trafficking victims.
The draft national referral mechanism to direct victims towards services, developed by the taskforce in the previous reporting period, did not receive approval by the ministries of labor and justice for the second year. As a result, the government remained without a formal referral process, and agencies responsible for referring victims to services rarely coordinated such efforts, which may have resulted in delayed care for victims. Authorities reported the majority of law enforcement, immigration, and social services personnel lacked training on victim identification and interim referral procedures, which they cited as one of the greatest challenges to successfully investigating and prosecuting cases and ensuring victims received care. Despite this shortcoming, the government did not provide or support training on such measures during the reporting period. The government did not systematically encourage victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions of their traffickers, but it sometimes provided victims with shelter, transportation, and food allocations to offset the costs of participating in a trial; 10 trafficking victims received this assistance during the reporting period. The anti-trafficking law provides for restitution and victims could file civil suits against their traffickers, although no victims filed such suits during the reporting period. While the government did not have a formal policy that provides alternatives to removal to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship, it could offer alternatives, including temporary residency, on a case-by-case basis. There were no reports the government detained, fined, or jailed victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; however, due to a lack of training on victim identification and the absence of measures to screen for trafficking among vulnerable populations, such as people in prostitution, it was possible that victims remained unidentified in the system.
The government maintained minimal efforts to prevent trafficking in persons. The anti-trafficking taskforce, which was responsible for coordinating anti-trafficking efforts across the government, did not hold regular meetings or have an operational budget to fund activities, which severely hampered inter-ministerial coordination and the government’s overall ability to combat trafficking. Due to a continued lack of funding and poor logistical coordination, the taskforce did not implement any activities in the 2014-2019 anti-trafficking national action plan. The government did not allocate any funding specifically for anti-trafficking activities. During the reporting period, the government and an NGO established a hotline to report trafficking cases, and the government trained and paid the salaries of six Ministry of Labor employees to run the hotline 24 hours a day; in practice, however, only two of the six employees staffed the hotline during the day, and no employees staffed the hotline during the evenings or at night. Through reports to the hotline, the government and an NGO identified and referred to assistance four trafficking victims; due to a lack of communication between entities, however, officials did not investigate any alleged traffickers in connection with those victims. The national legislature passed the National Migration Policy, which aims to manage and mitigate the risk of transnational crimes, including trafficking, and proposes expanding rehabilitation and reintegration services for trafficking victims and implementing a referral system for trafficking victims to legal services; authorities launched the policy in January 2017. LNP, with funding from and in collaboration with an international organization, conducted human trafficking awareness classes for students in the capital; the government did not sponsor any outreach or awareness activities during the reporting period. The government did not make any discernible efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor or commercial sex acts. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.
As reported over the past five years, Liberia is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Trafficking within the country from rural to urban areas is more prevalent than transnational trafficking, and the majority of victims are children. Most trafficking victims originate from and are exploited within the country’s borders, where they are subjected to domestic servitude, forced begging, sex trafficking, or forced labor in street vending, alluvial diamond mines, and on 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, take the children or women to urban areas, and exploit them in forced street vending, domestic servitude, or sex trafficking. While Liberian law requires parents to register children within 14 days of birth, fewer than five percent of births are registered; lack of birth registration and identity documents increase vulnerability to trafficking. Orphaned children are vulnerable to exploitation, including in street selling and child sex trafficking. A small number of Liberian men, women, and children are subjected to human trafficking in other West African countries, including Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. Women from Tunisia and Morocco have been subjected to sex trafficking in Liberia, and Liberian women have been subjected to forced labor in Lebanon. Authorities identified Liberians in forced labor in small businesses and restaurants in Finland during the reporting period.