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TIMOR-LESTE: Tier 2 Watch List

The Government of Timor-Leste does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. Those efforts included re-establishing funding to NGOs for victim services and integrating an anti-trafficking curriculum, created and provided by a foreign government, in some of its trainings for officials. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. For the fourth consecutive year, the government did not obtain any trafficking convictions. The only potential trafficking victim, compared with 65 potential victims in 2018, was identified by an NGO—the government did not confirm any trafficking cases and significantly decreased the number of trafficking investigations. Victim protection services remained inadequate, and the government did not finalize or approve government-wide standard operating procedures (SOPs) for victim identification for the fifth consecutive year—a critical need as official understanding of trafficking remained low and authorities continued to detain and deport potential trafficking victims for immigration violations without performing screening procedures. Therefore Timor-Leste was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List.

Increase investigations of trafficking offenses, proactively initiate prosecutions, and convict and punish traffickers, including complicit officials, in accordance with anti-trafficking laws.Finalize, implement, and train all relevant officials on formal procedures for victim identification among vulnerable populations, including individuals in commercial sex, domestic workers, and migrant workers on fishing vessels, and employ proper screening procedures upon detention or prior to initiating deportation.Amend the anti-trafficking provision of the penal code to ensure that force, fraud, or coercion are not a required element of sex trafficking cases involving 17-year old children.Strengthen efforts to protect victims from arrest, deportation, or other punishment for unlawful acts which traffickers compelled them to commit.Increase resources for protective services focusing on trafficking victims and proactively offer male victims the same services offered to female victims.Establish SOPs on referring victims to appropriate care and train officials on their use.Establish the human trafficking commission.Develop a current national action plan on trafficking and adequately fund its implementation.Finalize data collection procedures.

The government decreased law enforcement efforts. Articles 163 and 164 of the criminal code criminalized all forms of labor trafficking and some forms of sex trafficking and prescribed penalties of eight to 25 years’ imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with international law, the law required a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a sex trafficking offense involving a 17-year old child, and therefore did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. The government did not collect detailed data on trafficking, and the government only collected aggregate data on vulnerable persons and not trafficking-specific data. The government reported it investigated 13 potential trafficking cases—a significant decrease from 65 in 2018, 267 in 2017, and 176 in 2016. The government closed four cases for insufficient evidence while nine cases remained pending at the end of the reporting period. In addition, four case investigations from previous reporting periods remained ongoing. Local NGOs identified and referred one trafficking case to the government during the reporting period; however, the prosecutor general’s office (PGO) did not open an investigation. Subsequently, the government did not confirm any trafficking cases, a substantial decrease from five in 2018, nine in 2017, and 79 in 2016. Authorities did not initiate any trafficking indictments in 2019, compared with four in 2018. For the fourth consecutive year, the government did not obtain any convictions during the reporting period. In 2018, a district administrator was accused of raping a child sex trafficking victim and attempting to bribe her to not report the case; at the end of this reporting period the case was still with the PGO for review while the district administrator remained in his position. In a previous reporting period, the government reported referring a case of an immigration official who allegedly facilitated labor trafficking of Bangladeshi workers to the PGO; the government reported for the second consecutive year the case was ongoing.

The government included anti-trafficking curriculum, created and provided by a foreign government, in its judicial sector training. The Legal Training Center and the Office of the Prosecutor General also reported the inclusion of this curriculum in training for new judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and for current members of the judiciary, and confirmed delivering the training to five prosecutors in the PGO and five investigators from the Central Cabinet of Organized Crime in the PGO during the reporting period. The National Police confirmed recruits received training on how to identify trafficking victims as part of their onboarding curriculum. The government did not report the number of officials trained on anti-trafficking during the reporting period; officials’ understanding of trafficking or the requirements of the law reportedly remained inadequate, hindering overall progress.

The government decreased efforts to protect victims. Immigration and police officials reported their ad hoc use of trafficking indicators based on the Bali Process to identify victims; however—for the fifth consecutive year—the government has not finalized or disseminated comprehensive, government-wide SOPs for victim identification. The government did not report its proactive identification of any victims; NGOs referred one potential trafficking victim to the government—but the PGO did not open a formal investigation and therefore did not confirm any individuals as trafficking victims. This was a significant decrease from the 65 potential trafficking victims identified in 2018. The police provided emergency services to immediately stabilize a potential victim, and a government-funded NGO provided subsequent rehabilitative, mental health, and travel coordination services. The government re-established providing $8,000 each to two NGOs to provide shelter, legal, and psycho-social services to trafficking victims, despite limited availability of funds for the government. While one of the NGOs provided services to the potential trafficking victim it identified, the government’s technical field officers and 97 national police victim protection unit investigators charged with the identification and referral of victims to services did not report identifying or referring any trafficking victims to services. Adult victims may leave shelters unattended. An international organization continued to assess the availability and the quality of victim care as poor and below international standards and noted that while the government stated it provided services to both men and women, its existing victim assistance was structured for domestic violence victims, who were overwhelmingly female.

Law enforcement routinely performed raids on areas known for commercial sex, which was legal in the country, in part to assess immigration status. According to immigration officials, police, and media sources, authorities detained en masse foreign women in commercial sex—who may have been possible victims of sex trafficking—during such raids and deported them without screening for trafficking indicators. In May 2019, authorities arrested and deported 13 women in commercial sex from Vietnam, China, and Indonesia, for visa violations, without screening the women for trafficking indicators, similar to a case reported in the previous reporting period. Immigration officials reported traffickers coached victims to state they were voluntarily in commercial sex, which officials reported made it difficult for them to identify victims. The government had not yet completed implementing regulations and guidance on the 2017 Law on Preventing and Combating Human Trafficking, which stated trafficking victims may not be detained, accused, or judged for having entered or resided illegally in Timor-Leste, nor for having participated in unlawful acts committed as a direct consequence of the victim’s trafficking situation. The government did not provide foreign victims with alternatives to their removal to countries where they may face hardship or retribution. Although the government did not officially identify any victims of trafficking, the government funded the one NGO-identified potential victim’s repatriation.

The government decreased efforts to prevent trafficking. Though the government did not create a commission to combat trafficking as mandated in the 2017 trafficking law, it continued to use the interagency anti-trafficking working group, led by the Office of the Prime Minister and Ministry of Justice (MOJ), to coordinate anti-trafficking efforts. The working group met six times during the reporting period. The MOJ previously drafted a national action plan in 2018; MOJ had not yet presented the plan to the Council of Ministers. The government had yet to approve the working group’s request from an earlier reporting period for a budget to implement the action plan. The government did not conduct research to assess the human trafficking problem in its country, nor did it systemically monitor its anti-trafficking efforts. The government did not have an anti-trafficking hotline. The government did not take measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Timor-Leste, and traffickers exploit victims from Timor-Leste abroad. Traffickers lead Timorese women, girls, and occasionally young men and boys from rural areas to the capital with the promise of employment or education and exploit them in sex trafficking or domestic servitude. Traffickers exploit Timorese men in forced labor in agriculture, construction, and mining. Some Timorese family members place children in bonded household and agricultural labor, primarily in domestic rural areas but also abroad, to pay off family debts. Traffickers deceive young men and women and adult women with promises of scholarship opportunities or employment in Indonesia, Malaysia, and other countries in the region; often, traffickers take the victim to a different country than promised, withhold their passports, pay them little to nothing, and force them into labor, including domestic servitude. Frequently, Timorese victims overseas first transit through the porous border with Indonesia; some remain and are exploited in Indonesia. Sex traffickers in Timor-Leste prey on foreign women from East and Southeast Asia. Transnational traffickers may be members of Indonesian or Chinese organized crime syndicates, who rotate foreign victims of sex trafficking in and out of the country for the length of a 30-day tourist visa to avoid raising the suspicions of law enforcement officers through visa overstay violations. Traffickers also recruit Timorese women, send them to China, Indonesia, or Malaysia, and force them into commercial sex. Police accept bribes from establishments involved in trafficking or from traffickers attempting to cross borders illegally. Traffickers exploit foreign fishing crews in forced labor on foreign-flagged vessels that transit Timor-Leste waters.

U.S. Department of State

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