The Government of Liberia does not fully meet minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so, says the latest US Human Trafficking report.
“The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore, Liberia remained on Tier 2”, the document released here Thursday, June 15, reads.
Liberia remaining at Tier 2 means it has failed to advance from that level in its fight against human trafficking, says the 2023 trafficking in persons report released by the U.S. Department of States.
The report further details that these efforts included prosecuting and convicting an official complicit in human trafficking and identifying more victims and referring them to services.
However, the State Department notes that the Government of Liberia did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas, as investigations decreased and law enforcement officials continued to lack adequate resources and understanding of trafficking to effectively investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes, observing that victim services, especially shelter, remained insufficient.
Meanwhile, the report recommends that government expand victim services, particularly for victims outside the capital, males, and victims requiring long-term care.
It also calls for increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases, including those involving internal trafficking, sex trafficking, related criminal networks, and officials accused of complicity.
“Train labor inspectors and social workers on standard victim identification procedures and the national referral mechanism”, the report reads.
It also wants improved collaboration between anti-trafficking police units, immigration, labor, and judicial authorities, as well as increased financial or in-kind support to NGOs that support trafficking victims.
The U. S. State Department also recommends training for law enforcement and judicial officials on identifying, investigating, and prosecuting trafficking cases under the revised 2021 anti-trafficking law, and increased labor inspections in the informal sector and mining regions to improve identification of trafficking cases, including child forced labor, among others.
On question of prosecution, the report says authorities here maintained law enforcement efforts, and that the 2021 Revised Act to Ban Trafficking in Persons Within the Republic of Liberia criminalized all forms of sex and labor trafficking and prescribed minimum sentences of 20 years imprisonment, which it notes, were sufficiently stringent.
The report details that the Liberian government during the period under review, investigated eight trafficking cases, involving 12 suspects, including five for labor trafficking and three for unspecified forms of trafficking, and continued investigations of seven cases involving eight suspects.
“This compared with investigating 13 trafficking cases involving an unknown number of suspects in the previous reporting period. The government initiated prosecution of 13 defendants and continued prosecuting three defendants from the previous reporting period. This compared with prosecuting 12 defendants in the previous reporting period.”
It says of those prosecuted, 15 individuals were prosecuted under the Revised Trafficking in Persons Act of 2021 and one was prosecuted under the previous 2005 law, while courts in the country convicted four traffickers, three for labor trafficking and one for an unspecified form of trafficking, compared to eight convictions during the previous reporting period, with sentences ranged from three to 25 years’ imprisonment, adding “Three of the convictions were obtained under the Revised Trafficking in Persons Act of 2021 and one was obtained under the previous 2005 law.”
At the same time, the report says for the first time, the Government of Liberia prosecuted and convicted a complicit official on human trafficking charges, including a former National Security Agent for accepting money for his role in a human trafficking scheme involving facilitating transport of Liberian women to Oman.
“The former official was sentenced to 25 years in prison and ordered to pay a fine and restitution. However, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action”, the State Department notes.
The report notes that as reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Liberia, and traffickers exploit victims from Liberia abroad, revealing that trafficking within the country is more prevalent than transnational trafficking, and the majority of victims are children.
“Traffickers recruit and exploit most trafficking victims within the country’s borders in domestic servitude, forced begging, sex trafficking, or forced labor in street vending, gold and alluvial diamond mines, and on small-scale rubber plantations. Traffickers typically operate independently and are commonly family members who promise impoverished relatives a better life for their children or promise young women a better life for themselves.”
It says they take the children or women to urban areas and exploit them in forced labor in street vending, domestic service, or sex trafficking, and that those involved are also often well-respected community members who exploit the “foster care” system common across West Africa.