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PALAU: Tier 2 Watch List

The Government of Palau does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included charging one government official with labor trafficking, conducting trafficking research with an international organization, and providing an identified victim with new employment. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity. The government remained without standard operating procedures (SOPs) for victim identification and referral to services, leading to insufficient identification and protection services and the penalization of potential victims. Palauan law seemingly allowed the prosecution of victims through vague language, and the government actively prosecuted and convicted multiple likely victims in 2020, including a child. Yet, for the second consecutive year, the government did not convict any traffickers. The government continued to not investigate indicators of trafficking in labor recruitment and contract violations experienced by many foreign workers. Official complicity continued to play a role in facilitating trafficking and hindered law enforcement efforts. Therefore Palau was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List.

Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including complicit officials, under trafficking laws, and sentence traffickers to adequate penalties, which should involve significant prison terms. • Develop, disseminate, and train officials on SOPs for the proactive identification of trafficking victims and their referral to protection services. • Amend anti-trafficking laws to remove sentencing provisions that allow fines in lieu of imprisonment for sex trafficking crimes and allow the prosecution of victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled the victim to commit. • Enforce the anti-trafficking laws punishing recruiters, employment agents, and labor officials for illegal practices that facilitate trafficking. • Increase resources for and develop victim protection and rehabilitation services, including long-term shelter options, interpretation services, and medical and psychological care. • Create and implement a system to proactively offer foreign trafficking victims job placements and work visa extensions. • Establish and implement witness confidentiality procedures. • Increase anti-trafficking awareness among vulnerable populations, including foreign migrant worker communities. • Establish a mechanism for the systematic monitoring of government anti-trafficking efforts.

The government decreased law enforcement efforts. Sections 2106-2108 of the criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to $250,000, or both if the victim was an adult and up to 50 years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to $500,000, or both if the victim was under age 18. These penalties were sufficiently stringent, but by allowing for a fine in lieu of imprisonment for sex trafficking crimes these penalties were not commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The Ministry of Justice’s anti-human trafficking office (AHTO) investigated three potential trafficking cases, which included one case of labor trafficking and two cases of sex trafficking, compared with five potential trafficking case investigations in 2019 and 11 in 2018. The attorney general’s office (AGO) did not initiate prosecutions of any alleged traffickers during the reporting period, compared with two prosecutions in 2019 and one in 2018. For the second consecutive year, the government did not convict any traffickers; the last conviction was in 2018. The government did not report any ongoing trafficking investigations from prior reporting periods. In a case from the previous reporting period with potential trafficking indicators, the government charged the defendant with travel document fraud; the government did not report the status of the case at the end of the reporting period. In a prosecution initiated in a prior reporting period, the court dismissed all trafficking charges; the government did not report a reason behind the dismissal. Observers noted official complicity continued to play a significant role in facilitating trafficking, hindering law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking. The AGO charged the president of a state legislature with seven counts of labor trafficking in addition to 17 other charges including misconduct in public office and assault in the second degree; the case was ongoing at the end of the reporting period. In connection with one of the potential sex trafficking investigations, the government charged a state governor with non-trafficking related charges, including promoting prostitution and misconduct in public office; the case was ongoing at the end of the reporting period. Palauan authorities cooperated with foreign governments on ongoing international trafficking cases. In June 2020, the government conducted a workshop on online gambling, the fraudulent use of “front” businesses, and human trafficking for an unspecified number of local business stakeholders. In September 2020, an unspecified number of government officials participated in a virtual anti-trafficking training hosted by a foreign government. Despite these trainings, observers stated officials generally continued to lack an understanding of trafficking.

The government decreased efforts to protect victims. The AHTO, with assistance from an international organization, continued to develop a victim identification tool but reported pandemic-related travel restrictions delayed progress; consequently, the government remained without SOPs for victim identification and referral to services. Although the three new trafficking investigations involved 65 potential victims, the government reported identifying only one victim of labor trafficking – and the foreign national victim self-identified and sought help – compared with identifying four victims in 2019. In a prior reporting period, an international organization explained the small number of identified victims by stating only the most egregious cases of trafficking were likely to come to the attention of authorities because of the lack of proactive identification procedures and foreign migrant workers’ reluctance to complain to authorities out of fear that such complaints would result in job termination and deportation.

Due to a lack of formal identification procedures and Palauan law, authorities penalized victims for crimes traffickers compelled them to commit. While the 2005 Anti-Smuggling and Trafficking Act granted victims immunity from prosecution for the “act of people trafficking,” the vague language permitted prosecution for crimes traffickers compelled victims to commit, such as commercial sex or petty crime. In 2020, despite the case being investigated for sex trafficking, the government charged and prosecuted two potential victims for prostitution and violation of their work permit; one was convicted and sentenced, and one chose deferred prosecution. In addition, the government prosecuted 59 potential victims for immigration violations; one of the 59 charged was a child who did not have their passport in their possession and said they had been told to enter the country on a tourist visa. Ultimately, 57 of the 59 pled guilty, the child was charged in juvenile court, and one case was dismissed as circumstantial.

The government reported providing assistance to the one victim involved in either an investigation or prosecution, compared to six victims in 2019. Similar to prior reporting periods, the AHTO offered temporary shelter for trafficking victims; however, the identified victim stayed at a non-governmental facility. Investigators continued to employ local interpreters as needed in Bengali, Mandarin, and Tagalog. The government reported spending $500 on victim assistance to remove the identified victim from an outer island; it did not report funding or providing any other emergency protective services to adult trafficking victims, such as medical or psychological care. As in prior reporting periods, the lack of support services reportedly led some victims to leave the country rather than pursue legal recourse.

For the second consecutive year, the government did not report funding an NGO to assist trafficking victims with legal counseling and representation before labor and immigration hearings, compared with contributing approximately $15,000 to an NGO for these purposes in both 2017 and 2018. Similar to previous years, the AGO did not request restitution for trafficking victims, reportedly due to an inability to submit admissible evidence. The government offered ad hoc short-term legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they might face hardship or retribution; the attorney general could designate victims as “vulnerable,” making them eligible for alternate employment and accommodation assistance. The Division of Labor reported providing victims with temporary employment placements. The government assisted the identified victim with obtaining new employment. The judicial system did not keep victim identities confidential and in prior reporting periods, defendants in trafficking cases threatened witnesses.

The government slightly decreased efforts to prevent trafficking. The AHTO continued to lead the coordination of all national efforts to combat human trafficking. The AHTO was exclusively responsible for the implementation of the national action plan (NAP) and received funding from the National Congress. The AHTO also continued to oversee the Human Trafficking Task Force, which included members from civil society organizations, who assist victims of trafficking and recommend anti-trafficking programs and policies. The NAP expired in December 2019; similar to the previous reporting period, the government, with assistance from an international organization, reported it continued to update the NAP to include a five-year plan to address all forms of trafficking. Unlike the previous reporting period, the Division of Labor did not report conducting general public awareness activities on government policies regarding the employment of foreign workers; however, the Office of the Special Prosecutor continued public awareness campaigns on government corruption with a subsection focused on human trafficking. The government did not report conducting educational or public awareness campaigns for employers or labor recruiters. The government, in partnership with an international organization, conducted a research survey focused on trafficking knowledge, attitude, and practices; the survey included key findings, such as that only one-third of male respondents believed that trafficking took place in Palau and approximately half of the respondents were either unsure or unaware about the existence of a national law to protect trafficking victims within the country. The AHTO continued to staff a mobile phone number for trafficking tips with on-call AHTO investigators who spoke Palauan and English and received an average of three calls per month, resulting in one investigation during the reporting period.

In the previous reporting period, the government increased protections for foreign migrant workers by approving the labor division’s updated rules and regulations. The regulations included an amnesty period during the previous reporting period for nonresident workers in Palau without legal status to be placed under legal employment and new mechanisms to ensure employers had sufficient funds to cover wages and return tickets of migrant workers to prevent unauthorized deduction of wages. In addition, the regulations mandated that employers engaged in illegal recruitment of migrant workers could not hire new workers. The government did not report implementation of the law in any cases during the reporting period. In the previous reporting period, the government reported data collected from the foreign migrant workers who had applied for amnesty would be used to improve investigation of fraudulent recruiters and increase screening for trafficking among migrant workers; the government did not report any updates to using this collected data. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.

As reported over the past five years, human trafficking of foreign victims occurs in Palau. Palau’s foreign population, about one-third of the country’s population of 21,400, is especially at risk for trafficking. Filipino, Bangladeshi, Nepali, Chinese, Thai, 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, traffickers exploit some 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 traffickers exploit some in sex trafficking in karaoke bars or massage parlors. Foreign workers on fishing boats in Palauan waters also experience conditions indicative of human trafficking. Cuban nationals working in Palau may have been forced to work by the Cuban government. Natural disasters and climate-induced displacement significantly increases Palauans’ vulnerability to trafficking due to a loss of livelihood, shelter, or family stability. Official complicity plays a role in facilitating trafficking. Authorities have investigated government officials – including labor, immigration, law enforcement, and elected officials – for complicity in trafficking crimes.

U.S. Department of State

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