The US State Department has commended the Government of Maldives on the recent ratification of the Anti-trafficking Act, whilst a source within the government has questioned the administration’s initial moves in managing anti-trafficking policy.
Principal Deputy in the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Nan Kennelly, visited the country to consult with numerous stakeholders within both the government and civil society.
“Without a doubt passing a human trafficking act is a significant accomplishment and we have commended the government for that. It’s notable that it was done so early in the new administration,” said Kennelly.
A source within the government, however, has today questioned the decision to move the human trafficking issue under the mandate of the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
“The Ministry of Youth does not play a significant part in dealing with foreigners and workers in this country. Ninety-five percent of the relevant work takes place within the immigration department,” explained the source.
“When trafficking happens, what are the functions of immigration in border control? Just making referrals to the Ministry of Youth? I wonder how that will work.”
The source explained that the transfer of responsibilities had occurred after the act came into force.
Recently confirmed Minister for Youth and Sports Mohamed Maleeh Jamal was not responding to calls at the time of press.
Principal Deputy Kennelly met with the attorney general, the acting prosecutor general, the immigration controller, the commissioner of police, and representatives from the Youth Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, and the Human Rights Commission.
From civil society, consultations were held with Transparency Maldives, and the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) – which is being funded by the US for its work in the Maldives.
The IOM has conducted training following the passage of the bill last month which included officials from both the Youth Ministry and the Immigration Department.
“The IOM has tremendous expertise,” explained Kennelly. “With IOM you know you are going to get quality training that’s reflecting the norms of the international community.”
The Office to Monitor and combat Trafficking is responsible for producing the US Government’s yearly trafficking report. The Maldives has appeared on the report’s Tier 2 watchlist for four consecutive years.
“The law that governs the trafficking and persons report which we produce every year requires that it a country is on the tier two watchlist for four years in a row they must either go up one grade, or they will be downgraded to tier three,” explained Kennelly.
Relegation to Tier 3 – reserved for those deemed not to have conformed to the department’s minimum standards or to not be making enough effort to do so – carries with it the potential for the withdrawal of non-humanitarian and non-trade related foreign assistance.
“That’s the situation in which is in for the 2014 report – I can’t really speculate on what the ranking will be in 2014 because there are many factors that we take into consideration.”
Asked if the passage of the trafficking bill constituted enough effort to save the Maldives from Tier 3, Kennelly state that she had yet to see an English copy of the act, but that the next report would consider many factors.
She did, however, describe the new legislation as a “very good basis for future action”.
Shortly after the act’s ratification, both the Human Rights Commission and the Department of Immigration expressed concern over its failure to adequately identify smuggling – a topic Kennelly discussed with the media yesterday.
“Human smuggling is a crime against the state because immigration laws are being broken, whereas human trafficking is a crime which takes place against the individual…their human rights to be free from forced labour are violated.”
All government stakeholders consulted during the visit, however, were very clear on the difference, she explained.
“Generally speaking I was impressed with the level of sophistication of understanding of the concept of human trafficking amongst government interlocutors.”