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HK avoids slide to Tier 3 in human trafficking report

03 July 2018

By Vir B. Lumicao

For the third consecutive year, the US State Department has kept Hong Kong on its Tier 2 watch list on human trafficking, and avoided being automatically downgraded to Tier 3 because the government has devoted resources to a plan that, if implemented, would constitute significant efforts to meet the minimum standards.

In contrast, the US State Department “Trafficking in Persons Report 2018”, released on Jun 28, kept its Tier 1 rating for the Philippines for the third year, saying its government had fully met the standards and taken serious and sustained efforts to root out the problem.

The report cited  Philippine authorities’ efforts “in convicting and punishing more traffickers; effectively coordinating identification, referral, and provision of services to more victims; increasing efforts to prevent trafficking of Filipino migrant workers and to assist those who become victims overseas; and implementing procedures to reduce the backlog of trafficking cases in the courts.”

Cover of the report, which is available on the internet.
The Tier 2 grade puts Hong Kong on the same ranking as Bangladesh, Iraq, Pakistan and South Africa.  Tier 1 is for countries that perform best. 

The Hong Kong government immediately rejected the report, released on Jun 28, calling it “unfair” and “contains criticism not founded on facts and allegations not supported by evidence”.

A spokesman said on Jun 29 the US State Department’s continued disregard of its “determined, persistent and reinforced efforts in combating TIP (trafficking in persons) is most deplorable and unacceptable”.

“TIP is a heinous crime that has never been tolerated in Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s long and well-established legal framework, stringent enforcement actions by our professional and highly effective law enforcement agencies, independent judicial system, respect for the rule of law in society, as well as our clean and efficient government have placed us on a solid footing to combat TIP.

“We have all along maintained close liaison with foreign consulates, the local civil society and international counterparts to fight against the crime,” the spokesman added.

Human rights lawyer Patricia Ho, a partner of Daly, Ho and Associates, slammed the Hong Kong government’s claims that it is doing enough against human trafficking.

“The government’s exercise in smoke and mirrors cannot fool the international community who are serious about combating trafficking into believing that they mean business,” Ho said in a statement.
The government has told Legislative Council it does not think human trafficking happens in Hong Kong or that it is an issue to which anyone should pay attention, Ho said. 
“When NGOs tell them on a general level that tens of thousands of victims are in our jurisdiction, they deny that.  When lawyers and social workers bring victims to the authorities for help, they do nothing to assist them,” she said.
The TIP report said,“The Hong Kong government demonstrated significant efforts during the reporting period by releasing an action plan to combat trafficking and enhance protections for foreign domestic workers; establishing a central steering committee to coordinate anti-trafficking efforts,” .

It also cited Hong Kong’s passing of legislation that strengthened the penalties against employment agencies that violate certain labor provisions; increasing the number of investigations for sex trafficking-related offenses; and training a large number of front-line officers on victim identification and investigative methods.

But it said the government reported fewer convictions for sex trafficking-related offenses and issued sentences that were insufficiently stringent for the seriousness of the crime.

The TIP Report urged Hong Kong to enact a comprehensive anti-trafficking law that criminalizes all forms of trafficking, including sex trafficking and forced labor without trans-border movatioement, according to definitions set forth in the 2000 United Nations TIP Protocol.

Hong Kong should also increase efforts to proactively identify sex and labor trafficking victims among vulnerable populations – such as mainlanders and migrant domestic workers, and women and child prostitutes – and refer them to protection services.

The government reported investigating nine potential cases of labor trafficking and 37 potential cases of sex trafficking in 2017, compared with 19 in 2016. It did not report the number of sex trafficking prosecutions in 2017, but said it completed 14 prosecutions and obtained 12 convictions for offenses related to sex trafficking (28 convictions in 2016).



The US Trafficking Victims Protection Act stipulates that any jurisdiction ranked Tier 2 for three years in a row will be automatically downgraded in the third year. 


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