BRUNEI: Tier 2

The Government of Brunei 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 Brunei remained on Tier 2. The government demonstrated increased efforts by expanding measures to prevent trafficking through migrant worker outreach, accommodating more victims at its shelter, and carrying out victim screening procedures while strengthening investigations into alleged labor abuses that may amount to trafficking. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Authorities leveled criminal charges against some foreign victims and deported or fined others for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of having been subjected to trafficking. The government did not initiate any prosecutions or achieve any convictions under its trafficking law.

Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, convict, and punish both sex and labor traffickers, including complicit government officials, with strong penalties; cease the arrest, deportation, and punishment of trafficking victims for crimes committed as a direct result of their being subjected to trafficking; increase protective services to provide incentives for victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions, including by allowing adult victims in government shelters to move freely and by issuing work permits to all victims; allocate resources for the completion of the pending dedicated trafficking victims’ shelter and expand existing shelter services to accommodate adult male trafficking victims; train officials on implementation of proactive procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups; train judges on accurate and effective implementation of trafficking laws; allocate government resources to the victims’ fund established under the 2004 law and allow those funds to be paid directly to victims as restitution; strengthen efforts to enforce laws prohibiting acts that facilitate trafficking, such as retention or confiscation of migrant workers’ identity documents; offer foreign victims long-term alternatives to removal from the country; expand comprehensive and visible anti-trafficking awareness campaigns directed at employers of foreign workers and clients of commercial sex; approve and implement the national action plan; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

The government decreased law enforcement efforts. The 2004 Trafficking and Smuggling of Persons Order criminalized sex and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to 30 years imprisonment and fines, which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. The law criminalized travel outside the country for commercial sex with children, prescribing a punishment of up to 10 years imprisonment. Upon referral by other agencies, the human trafficking unit (HTU) of the Royal Brunei Police Force (RBPF) screened for trafficking indicators in cases involving prostitution, unpaid wages, workers fleeing their place of employment, or physical abuse of workers. The RBPF investigated 28 cases of potential trafficking in 2017, compared with an unknown number in 2016 and 66 investigations in 2015. Of these, authorities passed two as alleged trafficking cases to the attorney general’s chambers (AGC) for prosecution. In both cases, the AGC determined there was insufficient evidence of trafficking and subsequently prosecuted both cases for non-trafficking offenses. One additional alleged sex trafficking suspect remained under investigation. Authorities did not obtain any convictions under trafficking provisions in 2017, compared to three convictions in 2016, which were the first convictions under trafficking provisions since 2012. In previous years, authorities investigated government officials for complicity in trafficking offenses, including domestic servitude; no such investigations, prosecutions, or convictions took place during the reporting period.

The HTU trained the RBPF, immigration, labor, and anti-vice officers on trafficking and victim identification. Additionally, HTU conducted an outreach program for migrant workers through informational sessions at their respective embassies. The AGC trained multiple government agencies on cross-border control and trafficking.

The government maintained efforts to protect victims. The HTU continued to employ a standard countrywide identification system to screen and identify potential trafficking victims when apprehending persons in prostitution or when accompanying immigration and labor officials on operations with suspected trafficking indicators. For cases reported directly to police stations and other law enforcement agencies, front-line officers conducted preliminary investigations and then referred them to the HTU. In some cases, authorities employed identification measures only after detaining victims during law enforcement operations and charging them with prostitution. Officials apprehended foreign women and children during brothel raids, and detained and deported many for labor or immigration violations. According to one NGO, this practice perpetuated victims’ fear of communicating with law enforcement officers, culminating in significant identification and service provision gaps. The government maintained a secured, general-purpose shelter that was available to all female trafficking victims and male trafficking victims under the age of 18, but required victims to apply to leave the shelter, and only with a chaperone; no facilities were available for adult male trafficking victims. During the reporting period, three individuals received assistance at the shelter, compared to one in the previous period. The government is in the process of renovating a dedicated trafficking shelter, but the completion date was undetermined due to budget constraints.

The 2004 law established a fund to compensate victims and cover repatriation costs. However, convicted traffickers’ ability to elect additional prison time in lieu of paying fines resulted in the fund’s continued lack of resources. Negotiations continued between relevant ministries regarding government contributions to the fund at the end of the reporting period; as such, the government did not allocate funding for this mechanism. By law, foreign trafficking victims could acquire a temporary stay on deportation while the government works with relevant local embassies to obtain new travel documents or repatriation assistance, and victims were eligible for temporary work passes on an ad hoc basis; the government did not report any victims benefiting from these provisions. The government offered no long-term alternatives to removal for victims who may face hardship or retribution upon return to their home countries.

The government maintained limited efforts to prevent trafficking. During the reporting period, the government conducted training for labor and immigration officials and NGOs, and it carried out targeted public awareness-raising campaigns. In 2017, the immigration department conducted two roadshows to educate the public on employment laws, recruitment, and labor rights; the events took place in one of Brunei’s most popular malls and were open to the general public. The government disseminated information to the public making it clear employers should not withhold workers’ passports, but it did not initiate any prosecutions against employers or agencies for passport retention; the practice remained widespread. With in-kind government support, including subject matter expertise, a local NGO organized a two-part awareness campaign and exhibition, featuring panel discussions with professionals from the government and civil society, which reviewed trafficking issues in Brunei. The government did not complete its draft national action plan to combat trafficking, but authorities reported implementing its provisions. Government-influenced media continued to publish articles related to trafficking—particularly regarding investigations and legal proceedings against employers suspected of labor violations—as well as the list of registered employment agencies in both English and Malay. In an effort to prevent labor abuses, the government assigned dedicated liaison officers to construction projects that employ a significant number of migrant workers. The government increased public messaging on the consequences of violating workers’ rights and labor laws, but did not make efforts to decrease the demand for commercial sex acts. Although Brunei did not accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, the AGC completed the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Order of 2017, which paves the way for accession.

As reported in the last five years, Brunei is a destination and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. There are approximately 100,000 foreign migrant workers in Brunei from regional countries, with a significant increase in mainland Chinese nationals in 2017 as construction at a Chinese-funded petrochemical plant accelerated. Some government officials have expressed concern that the increase in migrant workers could lead to an increase in prostitution and potentially sex trafficking. Men and women migrate to Brunei primarily for domestic and construction work, or on social visit passes or tourist visas. Upon arrival, some are subjected to involuntary servitude, debt bondage, non-payment of wages, passport confiscation, physical abuse, or confinement. Some migrants who transit Brunei become victims of sex or labor trafficking upon arrival in Malaysia or Indonesia. Although it is illegal for employers to withhold wages of domestic workers for more than 10 days, some employers withhold wages to recoup labor broker or recruitment fees, or to compel the continued service of workers. Retention of migrant workers’ travel documents by employers or agencies remains a widespread practice, although the law prohibits it.

U.S. Department of State

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