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. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by establishing and funding a trafficking task force; increasing and reporting on investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of trafficking crimes, including complicit officials; identifying more victims; and funding a regional NGO providing legal services to several trafficking victims. However, the government did not meet minimum standards in several key areas. Courts issued light penalties such as suspended sentences for trafficking crimes and the government did not provide or fund emergency protective services such as shelter, medical, or psychological care. There was also a lack of proactive victim identification and referral protocols.

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 strong penalties on convicted traffickers—including complicit officials that are likely to deter future offenses; institute and implement victim identification and referral protocols, standard operating procedures, and training for law enforcement officers to identify and protect trafficking victims in vulnerable groups; fund and develop emergency and ongoing protective services for trafficking victims, including emergency housing options; establish witness confidentiality procedures; implement the anti-trafficking hotline; increase anti-trafficking awareness among vulnerable populations, including labor migrant communities; use funds obtained from asset seizure or fines imposed on convicted traffickers to support victims; do not penalize trafficking victims for illegal acts committed as a result of being subjected to human trafficking; enforce the anti-trafficking laws punishing recruiters, employment agents, and labor officials for illegal practices that facilitate trafficking; establish a mechanism for the systematic monitoring of government anti-trafficking efforts; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

The government increased law enforcement efforts. The Anti-Smuggling and Trafficking Act of 2005 and 2014 amendments to the criminal code criminalized sex and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of 10 to 50 years imprisonment and fines of up to $50,000; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government investigated 14 potential cases of trafficking with 24 defendants, a large increase compared with none reported in 2016. The government prosecuted three trafficking cases, compared with two cases last year. The government reported three convictions, one by the special prosecutor’s office, compared with two convictions last year. The court-imposed penalties, however, reflected a failure to treat trafficking as a serious crime. A court convicted two labor traffickers and sentenced them to five years imprisonment; however, the court suspended the sentences and required the traffickers to self-deport within 30 days. A court convicted a labor recruiter on trafficking and smuggling charges with a sentence of 10 years probation; she served one year before she was deported. The government also convicted four defendants for promoting prostitution with minors with sentences ranging from six months to 13 years imprisonment; one was registered as a sex offender.

Observers noted official complicity played a significant role in facilitating trafficking. The Attorney General’s Office investigated allegations of official complicity during the reporting period but did not report the number of officials or the allegations made or initiate prosecutions or secure convictions of complicit officials during the year. The government did not report progress on two pending sex trafficking prosecutions involving complicit officials from 2012. The government launched a new trafficking task force, which led investigations of trafficking, including those that may implicate officials. The Attorney General’s Office had a prosecutor dedicated to working on trafficking cases. The government sent one immigration officer to attend a regional conference on immigration enforcement, which included human trafficking cases as a secondary topic, but observers reported that training was lacking for law enforcement.

The government increased efforts to protect victims. The government reported that the police identified 10 foreign labor trafficking victims and four potential minor victims of sex trafficking, compared with none reported last year. The government did not report funding or provide emergency protective services to adult trafficking victims such as shelter, medical, or psychological care although the minor victims received some counseling at the hospital. There were no guidelines for proactive identification or referral process to guide officials in transferring identified victims to care providers or protective custody. The general lack of support services reportedly led some victims to leave the country rather than pursue legal recourse.

The government contributed approximately $15,000 to an NGO, Micronesian Legal Services Corporation (MLSC), specifically to assist trafficking victims with legal counseling and representation before labor and immigration hearings. Trafficking victims may file claims with MLSC, which filed 10 civil lawsuits on behalf of 49 victims. The Attorney General’s Office assisted some victims with work visa extensions and job placements, in coordination with labor and immigration officials. Prosecutors did not request restitution for trafficking victims, reportedly due to an inability to submit admissible evidence. Non-Palauan trafficking victims could seek to legalize their worker status or receive assistance with repatriation. Victim identities were not kept confidential. Authorities charged one of the defendants in a trafficking case with verbally threatening a potential witness. There were no reports of trafficking victims penalized for acts committed as a result of having been subjected to trafficking; however, insufficient identification efforts made victims vulnerable to law enforcement actions.

The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The government established and funded an Anti-Human Trafficking Office under the Ministry of Justice that will conduct investigations and promote public awareness campaigns on human trafficking. It did not conduct educational or public awareness campaigns for employers or labor recruiters. The government created and distributed a flyer with information on a planned victim hotline. The government’s human rights task force submitted both an appraisal of Palau’s anti-trafficking efforts and a draft national action plan to the president for review. The president announced a special law enforcement operation targeting illegal business practices in the tourism industry to reduce the demand for forced labor and commercial sex, but did not report any such actions during the reporting period. The government did not make efforts to oversee the labor recruitment and contract violations experienced by many foreign workers. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. 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 21,400, 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. Foreign workers on fishing boats in Palauan waters also 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.

U.S. Department of State

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