The Way Forward to an End in Trafficking in Persons in Equatorial Guinea

On June 27, 2017, the Secretary of State released the seventeenth annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report in a public event at the State Department.  The title of this year’s TIP Report is “Enhancing Criminal Accountability and Addressing Challenges in Prosecution Efforts.”  The report focuses on the specific responsibility of governments under the Palermo Protocol to criminalize trafficking in persons in all its forms, and to prosecute and punish offenders for these crimes.

Unfortunately, Equatorial Guinea has remained at the lowest tier ranking.  This ranking severely limits U.S. foreign assistance programs with Equatorial Guinea.  Equatorial Guinea has been ranked Tier 3 since 2011 but in the last two years has begun to take some actions recommended to improve their ranking through training and information campaigns. Because of that training, one potential trafficking case was identified by law enforcement officials and the victims were repatriated to their home country.

Human Trafficking is as old as humankind, but it is our hope that this century is the last century for enslavement of any person.  Regrettably, our challenge is enormous.  Human traffickers around the world—in every region and nearly all nations—exploit more than 20 million victims in forced labor and sex trafficking.  This multi-billion dollar industry destroys families and communities, weakens the rule of law, strengthens criminal networks, and offends universal concepts of human decency.  And the consequence of our failure to act is the increase of corruption.

Each of us can take steps to address TIP.   An important first step is to educate ourselves about the crime and share information from the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report.  This annual report measures government efforts in prosecuting traffickers, protecting victims, and preventing the heinous crime from occurring in the first place.  The tier placement is based not on the size of the country’s problem but on the extent of governments’ efforts to meet the TVPA’s minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking, which are generally consistent with the Palermo Protocol.

Effective anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts are challenging. Human trafficking often unfolds in various stages and over extended periods of time, typically involving multiple actors. Human trafficking is a hidden crime, in which perpetrators take advantage of power imbalances and coerce and intimidate their victims into silence. Victims of trafficking may not know they are entitled to legal protection and may fear being prosecuted or punished for crimes or immigration violations committed as a direct result of the trafficking scheme. Even if a victim initially consents to enter into a situation in which exploitation later occurs, or to participate in criminal acts during such exploitation, such consent is legally irrelevant under the Palermo Protocol once that person is subjected to compelled service through force, fraud, or coercion. In all of these scenarios, law enforcement must collect evidence to enable prosecutors to prove suspects intended to exploit someone, often with few, if any, corroborating witnesses. Where the crime takes place across multiple countries, governments may face additional challenges securing international cooperation, as well as jurisdiction, to effectively investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes.

There is nothing simple about ending human trafficking.  It is a crime that is hidden in the shadows, in which traffickers all too often operate with impunity and whose victims are largely unseen.

Since the first issue in 2001, our TIP Report has profiled a wide range of effective strategies for governments to fight human trafficking, including victim identification and care, partnerships with civil society, and prevention efforts such as examining vulnerabilities in global supply chains.

In addition to protecting victims from retribution or re-exploitation, an effective law enforcement response brings traffickers to justice—both to punish them for their crimes and to deter others.  To be effective, governments need comprehensive anti-trafficking laws that clearly define the crime, criminalize all forms of human trafficking—both sex and labor trafficking—and prescribe penalties of imprisonment for the commission of trafficking crimes that are commensurate to punishments for other serious crimes.  Equatorial Guinea’s 2004 Law on the Smuggling of Migrants and Trafficking in Persons already prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes stringent penalties.  Now it has to be responsibly enforced.

Effective anti-trafficking law enforcement can be difficult; all governments must do more to address the crime comprehensively.  The TIP Report this year examines some of the common challenges governments face in pursuing justice, including the barriers to building a strong case, delays in prosecution, non-criminal resolutions, and public officials’ complicity and corruption.

Human trafficking is an assault on human dignity and should be penalized accordingly.  No government can hold human traffickers accountable or address the needs of victims without stringent and comprehensive human trafficking laws, strong law enforcement, prosecutorial capacity funded with adequate resources, and an informed judiciary.

While governments cannot undo the pain and indignity victims face, they can seek to right that wrong by prosecuting, convicting, and sentencing traffickers and those complicit in human trafficking.  Victims of human trafficking deserve timely and meaningful access to justice through a system that respects the rule of law and due process rights.

In taking these measures, governments provide justice for victims, create more stable societies to keep the vulnerable safe, and encourage a world free from modern slavery.

Without these measures and your attention, the tragedy that is human trafficking will continue to flourish.  To make progress, we have specific recommendations to further the Government of Equatorial Guinea’s anti-trafficking efforts over the next year:

1) Use the 2004 anti-trafficking law to prosecute and convict traffickers including complicit officials;

2) Develop formal procedures to identify trafficking victims, especially among child laborers, undocumented immigrants, women in prostitution, and children exploited for commercial sex;

3) Train social workers, law enforcement, and immigration officials in the use of trafficking victim identification and referral procedures;

4) Dedicate more funding to shelter and protect trafficking victims, including male victims, and develop a formal system to refer victims to care;

5) Develop and implement SOPs for screening foreigners before deportation to ensure trafficking victims are provided appropriate care and safe, voluntary repatriation;

6) Develop and implement procedures for law enforcement officials to systematically notify embassies when their nationals have been detained;

7) Revive the inter-ministerial anti-trafficking commission and dedicate resources to implement the national action plan to combat trafficking in persons;

8) Research the extent and nature of the crime within the country;

9) Launch a nationwide anti-trafficking public awareness campaign.

Each year, governments need to demonstrate appreciable progress in combating trafficking. A country is never finished with the job of fighting trafficking.  The  Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea must continue to increase its awareness and training campaigns, as well as improve its efforts to promote prosecution of perpetrators of TIP cases within the borders of Equatorial Guinea and enforce its 2004 Law on the Smuggling of Migrants and Trafficking in Persons.