The government increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. In July 2019, the president signed Gabon’s revised penal code into law, which explicitly included a trafficking in persons offense for the first time; however, the new anti-trafficking provisions only criminalized some forms of sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Specifically, the penal code limited the definition of trafficking in persons to crimes involving an “exchange for remuneration or any other advantage or the promise of remuneration or other advantage,” thereby not encompassing all forms of trafficking. Articles 342-350 of the revised penal code prescribed penalties of up to seven years’ imprisonment and a fine of one million Central African francs (CFA) ($1,730) for trafficking offenses involving adult victims and up to 15 years imprisonment and a fine of up to 100 million CFA ($172,970) for those involving child victims. These penalties were sufficiently stringent but with respect to adult sex trafficking, not commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the penal code established the use of force, fraud, or coercion as aggravating factors rather than essential elements of the crime; penalties were increased to up to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of one million CFA ($1,730) if such factors were involved. Finally, the penal code also conflated the crimes of human smuggling and trafficking in persons.
The government did not maintain comprehensive law enforcement statistics as a result of its systemic information management challenges. A lack of high-level coordination between ministries further contributed to the government’s limited capacity to collect and manage anti-trafficking law enforcement data. Police officers in Libreville reported initiating three investigations for forced labor in 2019 under penal code articles 342-350, compared with investigating 17 suspected child trafficking cases in 2018. A Ministry of Justice representative reported the government submitted 20 cases for prosecution in 2019 under penal code articles 342-350, compared with three child trafficking cases the previous year. The government convicted one trafficker and found one suspect not guilty in a separate trial in 2019, compared with convicting one trafficker in 2018. Only the country’s Special Criminal Session court was authorized to hear trafficking cases because it is a crime equivalent to murder in the Gabonese legal system; ministerial reshuffles at the end of 2019 resulted in the government rescheduling its latest Criminal Session from December 2019 to April 2020.
Due to a lack of training and corruption, prosecutorial judges tasked with investigating trafficking cases did not always investigate cases brought to their attention, which prevented the prosecution of some trafficking cases. Experts alleged some traffickers bribed judges to actively delay or dismiss trafficking cases. Although corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, the government did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting complicit government employees.
Law enforcement officials coordinated with the Republic of the Congo to extradite a suspected Gabonese sex trafficker back to Libreville in December 2019, where the suspect is currently awaiting trial for pimping, rape of a minor, endangering the life or health of others, and potentially, trafficking in persons; the case remained ongoing at the close of the reporting period. In January 2020, officials collaborated with an international organization to train approximately 70 law enforcement, social welfare, and civil society actors on victim-centered trafficking investigations. The government hosted a training in October 2019 for more than 50 magistrates in coordination with a donor to enhance justice sector officials’ ability to prosecute trafficking crimes in accordance with the country’s revised penal code.