Anti-trafficking conference concludes in Malé

A regional anti-human trafficking conference titled ‘Consultation to promote sub-regional collaboration on combating trafficking in persons’, held in Malé has concluded.

The conference – inaugurated by the Minister for Economic Development Mohamed Saeed – was organised by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, in collaboration Sri Lanka’s Solidarity Center, reports Sun Online.

The conference was attended by representatives from Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Qatar, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates.

Dr Ahmed Al Hashemi, Director of Middle East Centre for Training and Development is reported to have provided a presentation detailing how the UAE has employed a number of anti-trafficking mechanisms including electronic salary transfers and the establishment of specialist anti-trafficking committees within government departments.

The Maldives passed its first anti-trafficking legislation in December, defining the practice as a crime for the first time. The country had previously been placed on the US State Department’s Tier 2 Watch List for human trafficking for four years in a row, with suggestions that it could move to the third tier failing steps to address the issue.


Anti-trafficking measures praised by US, whilst doubts persist within government

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.”


President forms anti-trafficking steering committee

President Abdulla Yameen has formed an “Anti-Trafficking Steering Committee” as required by the new Anti Human Trafficking Act.

The members of the committee are;

1. Abdulla Saeed, Supreme Court Judge
2. Jeehan Mahmood, Member of Human Rights Commission
3. Mariyam Zoona, Deputy Director at the Ministry of Youth and Sports
4. Aisha Naeem, State Attorney at the Attorney General’s Office
5. Mahmood Saleem, Assistant Public Prosecutor Grade 3 at the Prosecutor General’s Office
6. Mohamed Shifan, Deputy Chief Immigration Officer at the Department of Immigration and Emigration
7. Khadeeja Najeeha, Assistant Director at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
8. Hassan Habeeb, Assistant Commissioner of Police
9. Mohamed Maseeh, Chief Superintendent at the Maldives Customs Service
10. Aishath Nafaa Ahmed, Assistant Director at the Ministry of Youth and Sports
11. Sheikh Hussain Rasheed Yoosuf, Inspector General of Correction Service at the Ministry of Home Affairs
12. Ali Waheed, Deputy Minister of Islamic Affairs
13. Muruthallah Moosa from the Advocating the Rights of Children (a local NGO)

A member from the People’s Majlis will also sit in this committee. As per article 62 of the Act, this committee will be responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Act, and advising the president on matters related to it’s implementation, and coordinating programs related to countering human trafficking.


Anti-trafficking act greeted with caution by HRCM

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has welcomed this week’s ratification of the Anti-trafficking act, despite reservations about the legislation itself and the state’s capacity to enforce it.

“It covers many acts of exploitation that will now be considered as offences and it also has penalties in the act for those who commit the crime of human trafficking,” said HRCM member Jeehan Mahmoud.

Earlier this week, the government announced the ratification of the bill, which had been passed in the Majlis on December 3.

Assistant Controller Ali Ashraf has also described the new legislation as “an excellent piece of work”

A President’s Office press release stated that the new legislation clearly defined human trafficking as an offence in the Maldives.

The main objectives of the Anti-Human Trafficking Act were subsequently listed as:

• Preventing trafficking of persons through and across the Maldives

• Establishing the crimes of trafficking in persons and prescribing punishments

• Providing for prosecution of perpetrators of trafficking in persons

• Providing protection and assistance to victims of human trafficking

• Promoting and protecting the human rights of trafficked victims

• Engaging in cooperation with local and international NGOs working against human trafficking

Those found guilty of human trafficking can now face up to 10 years for cases involving adults, which can be extended to up to 15 if children are involved. Accomplices to trafficking can also now receive a seven year sentence.

Both Jeehan and Ashraf, however, maintained reservations regarding the efficacy of the act in the absence of specific definitions of offences and in its failure to include human smuggling.

“We wanted to identify specific acts. In our experience, if specifics are not detailed there is a chance that the offences go without prosecution when they get to the courts,”said Jeehan.

Similarly, Ashraf noted that the failure to include the category of smuggling in the act – different to trafficking in that individuals give a measure of consent to be transported illegally – made it very likely that offenders will be able to evade prosecution.

“The definition of trafficking can be twisted so easily,” warned Ashraf.

Jeehan noted that those smuggled were as vulnerable to exploitation by their handlers as those trafficked.

International pressure

In ratifying the bill, President Yameen has fulfilled one of the recommendations given by the US State Department earlier this year to avoid a downgrade to Tier 3 – the lowest rung on the department’s scale.

Relegation to Tier 3 is reserved for states who are neither meeting the minimum requirements to eliminate trafficking, nor are making concerted efforts to do so. The State Department revealed  in June this year that, despite being spared the downgrade to Tier 3 this year, the country would be ineligible for such a reprieve in 2014.

US diplomat Luis CdeBaca – speaking at the launch of the US’s most recent human trafficking report – said that the guarantee of a downgrade had been introduced to prompt action in countries who had been “getting comfortable being on Tier 2 Watch List, doing a minimum amount.”

Jeehan argued that such international pressure had played a “key role” in paving the way for the new legislation, expressing her belief that the move will be viewed positively by international observers.

The Maldives’ downgrading from the Tier 2 watchlist – where it has remained for four years – could potentially leave it open to non-humanitarian and non-trade international sanctions.

A government-ordered report in 2011 revealed human trafficking to be the Maldives second most lucrative industry after tourism – worth an estimated US$123million a year.

The Maldives expatriate worker population is estimated by some sources to be as high as one third of the population with the majority coming from Bangladesh. Bangladeshi authorities temporarily halted worker migration to the Maldives earlier this year in order to check on worker eligibility.

Under the previous government, the Immigration Department had targeted the return of 10,000 unregistered workers by the end of 2013.

Institution building

Jeehan today noted that much work was still needed to build the capacity of state institutions in order to adequately fight trafficking.

“Very little has been done to build the capacity of state officials to counter human trafficking. One thing definitely needed is to build the capacity of state institutions,” said Jeehan.

The capacity of the country’s border control infrastructure to adequately deal with trafficking has been questioned in recent months, following the decision of the previous government to replace border control system offered by Malaysia’s Nexbis company with the US PISCES system.

During the legal wrangles that dogged the Nexbis deal from its initial agreement, the company’s Vice President suggested that groups backing the country’s lucrative human trafficking industry could be seeking to stymie the introduction of its BCS to undermine national security controls.

Ashraf stated that the capacity to meet the requirements of the new legislation was there, but that a number of amendments would be needed to make it fully workable – including special visas for trafficking victims.

“Implementation of the bill will require a lot of effort and coordination,” he added, revealing that the Department of Immigration, alongside the International Organisation for Migration, would be holding a training session for all immigration officials on December 15 for this purpose.