PALAU: Tier 2

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. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Palau remained on Tier 2. Increasing efforts included the conviction of a corrupt official whose actions could have been permissive of trafficking. The government also reconvened the National Human Rights Working Group intended to consolidate government efforts in the promotion and protection of human rights, including through as yet unimplemented anti-trafficking awareness-raising campaigns. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Courts failed to secure convictions under trafficking provisions and issued light penalties for trafficking-permissive violations—a trend that seemed to reflect a failure to treat trafficking as a serious crime. The government did not increase funding for or access to victim protective services, nor did it develop a national action plan to combat trafficking.

Using the 2005 anti-trafficking law and 2014 amendments to the criminal code, increase efforts to investigate and criminally prosecute trafficking offenses, convict sex and labor traffickers, and impose sufficiently stringent penalties on convicted traffickers—including complicit officials; develop and implement formal procedures for front-line officers to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups and increase the availability of protective services for trafficking victims, including through provision of access to government-funded trafficking victims’ shelters and to legal counsel; implement anti-trafficking awareness and education campaigns targeting vulnerable populations, including labor migrant communities; use funds obtained from asset seizure or fines imposed 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 authorization for foreign victims to remain in the country and obtain alternate employment; develop a national action plan to combat trafficking; continue to enforce laws punishing employment agents and labor officials for illegal practices that facilitate trafficking, with a focus on penalties that are likely to deter future offenses; establish a mechanism for the systematic monitoring of government anti-trafficking efforts; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

The government maintained modest anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The Anti-Smuggling and Trafficking Act of 2005 prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties for these offenses ranging from 10 to 50 years imprisonment and fines of up to $50,000, or $500,000 for cases with aggravating circumstances; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Trafficking victims could file claims with a government-designated NGO, which registered cases with the Office of the Attorney General (OAG). The OAG had dedicated anti-trafficking prosecutors to investigate trafficking allegations and prosecute cases, and provided training to police academy recruits on trafficking statutes and indicators.

The OAG received one new report of trafficking for the second year in a row, though it is unclear if the case—involving a woman from the Philippines—triggered any law enforcement action. The government obtained two convictions compared to three in 2015. However, the courts imposed penalties on convicted traffickers that reflected a failure to treat trafficking in persons as a serious crime. In one case, the government obtained a conviction of a Nepali individual initially prosecuted in 2015 for labor trafficking along with an accomplice. Courts sentenced him to six months in prison and fined him $1,600. However—as was the case for this individual’s accomplice in 2015—they ultimately stayed both penalties contingent on his voluntary permanent exile within 10 days of the verdict, and on the conditions that he divulge the identities of any Palauans involved in his crime and not engage in any further recruitment activities. He departed Palau per the conditions of the stay. In a separate case, the government obtained the conviction of a labor official who accepted bribes to secure a labor permit for an undocumented Bangladeshi national. Authorities sentenced the official to one year in prison with five years probation, ordered him to pay a $2,000 fine, plus $400 in restitution to the victim, and barred him from holding public office in the future; however, the courts ultimately allowed him to pay the $400 restitution amount in lieu of a prison sentence.

The government maintained limited efforts to identify and protect victims. It was unclear how many potential trafficking victims were identified 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. An NGO worked with victims and assisted in their representation before labor and immigration hearings, but the general lack of support services reportedly led some potential trafficking victims to leave the country rather than pursue legal recourse. The OAG filed and supported several civil lawsuits to help trafficking victims recover lost wages. Courts could order restitution be paid to labor trafficking victims regardless of whether they request it, but it was unclear if any victims were awarded restitution in 2016. Labor trafficking victims were entitled to receive repatriation benefits. Some faith-based organizations reportedly provided shelter for trafficking victims, but did so without government funding or in-kind support. There were no reports of trafficking victims facing detentions, fines, or jail time for acts committed as a result of having been subjected to trafficking; however, insufficient identification and referral mechanisms could have made some victims vulnerable to law enforcement actions.

The government maintained modest efforts to prevent trafficking. The government did not conduct educational or public awareness campaigns, but it took steps to develop them. The president reconvened the National Human Rights Working Group in 2016 to focus on the promotion and protection of human rights, including by raising awareness on trafficking in persons. The working group comprised members of the OAG and the Office of the Special Prosecutor. Palau’s 2014 criminal code amendments contain a labor trafficking law intended to strengthen employment protections and prevent the unlawful retention of travel documents. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. The government did not develop a national action plan against trafficking or provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. There were no reports of systematic efforts by the government to monitor its own anti-trafficking efforts. Palau is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

As reported over the last five years, 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 17,661, is the most vulnerable to trafficking. Filipino, Bangladeshi, Nepali, 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 the Philippines and China 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 Palauan waters experience conditions indicative of human trafficking. Official complicity plays a role in facilitating trafficking. Government officials—including labor, immigration, law enforcement, and elected officials—have been investigated for complicity during previous reporting periods.

U.S. Department of State

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