Palau is a destination country for women subjected to sex trafficking and for women and men subjected to forced labor. Palau’s foreign population—the majority of whom are from the Philippines, China, and the Republic of Korea—comprises approximately one-fifth of the county’s population of 17,400. Filipino, Chinese, and Korean men and women pay thousands of dollars in recruitment fees and willingly migrate to Palau for jobs in domestic service, agriculture, restaurants, or construction; upon arrival, some are forced to work in conditions substantially different from what was presented in contracts or recruitment offers, and some become trafficking victims. Women from China and the Philippines migrate to Palau expecting to work as waitresses or clerks, but some are subsequently forced into prostitution in karaoke bars and massage parlors; some illegal recruiters from the Philippines recruit foreign women for karaoke bars and massage parlors operated by Taiwanese or Filipino nationals. Foreigners who work on fishing boats experience conditions that may indicate human trafficking including fraudulent recruitment, altered working conditions, and withholding of salaries. Regulations make it extremely difficult for foreign workers to change employers once they arrive in Palau, increasing their vulnerability to involuntary servitude and debt bondage. Some Palauan and foreign employers also abuse foreign workers by subjecting victims to harsh working conditions and confinement.
The Government of Palau does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. In 2013, the government initiated two prosecutions involving alleged sex traffickers and identified 11 victims from a December 2012 investigation. Government officials, however, demonstrated an uneven commitment to combat trafficking. In early 2013, the Attorney General organized a government anti-trafficking working group, but senior government officials ordered the working group to cease activities in December; the working group remained inactive at the end of the reporting period. The Attorney General subsequently resigned in April 2014. Senior government officials publicly criticized and downplayed the importance of anti-trafficking efforts in Palau. The government made inadequate efforts to assist potential trafficking victims—including victims identified in the December 2012 investigation. There were no trafficking convictions in 2013, and prosecutors sometimes charged suspected traffickers with labor violations instead of trafficking crimes that carry more severe penalties.
Recommendations for Palau:
Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and convict sex and labor traffickers of both Palauan and non-Palauan nationals; establish formal procedures for front-line officers to identify and refer trafficking victims to protective services; continue to raise awareness of human trafficking, recognize and condemn incidences of trafficking, and implement anti-trafficking information and education campaigns; increase resources devoted to address anti-trafficking efforts; develop a national plan of action to combat human trafficking; continue to make vigorous efforts to combat corruption by officials involved in regulation of the immigration and employment of foreign workers, or officials complicit in forced prostitution; monitor employment agents recruiting foreign men and women for work in Palau for compliance with existing labor laws to prevent their facilitation of trafficking; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
The Government of Palau demonstrated modest anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Palau’s Anti-Smuggling and Trafficking Act of 2005 prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons and prescribes penalties for these offenses ranging from 10 to 50 years’ imprisonment and fines of up to $500,000; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Prosecutors sometimes chose to charge suspected traffickers with labor violations instead of trafficking crimes that carry more severe penalties. In 2013, the Attorney General’s office and members of other relevant ministries attended an anti-trafficking training and provided a site for a regional conference—both were funded by a foreign government.
In 2013, the government reported conducting one new investigation of a human trafficking case, which led to prosecutions of two alleged traffickers. In this case, and one pending case from December 2012, the government charged foreign citizens, but not Palauan citizens associated with the cases, with human trafficking crimes. The government reported no human trafficking convictions during the reporting period. The 2013 investigation resulted in the prosecution of two Filipino national defendants for subjecting women to forced prostitution in a karaoke bar. The governor of one of Palau’s islands and a Palauan businessman involved in this case were not charged with human trafficking, but with prostitution-related crimes with lesser penalties. This case remained pending at the end of the reporting period. Ongoing prosecutions involving five defendants (one Palauan policeman and four foreign nationals) from a December 2012 human trafficking investigation remained pending at the end of the reporting period. In the December 2012 investigation, 11 Filipino victims were allegedly subjected to sex trafficking in a massage parlor. The four foreign national defendants, but not the Palauan policeman, have been charged with trafficking offenses; one of the four foreign national defendants traveled to his home country to raise money for his defense, but has yet to return to Palau despite the court’s order. Two additional Palauan defendants (including one immigration officer) involved in this December 2012 case were convicted of prostitution-related crimes.
The Government of Palau made limited and inadequate efforts to identify and protect victims of trafficking. In 2013, the government identified 11 victims from the December 2012 investigation; it has not yet identified any victims from the December 2013 case. In a separate incident, the government attempted to deport a foreign worker who had filed a complaint about working conditions that could be indicative of forced labor, but his lawyer stopped the deportation; the government did not provide the worker assistance and its review of his complaint remained pending at the end of the reporting period. The government did not train officers to proactively identify victims among vulnerable populations, such as foreign workers or women in prostitution. The government did not provide shelter for trafficking victims and instead relied on local businesses, churches, NGOs, and foreign governments to assist victims. The government offered work permits to some potential foreign victims, including the December 2012 victims, while they remained in the country. The Attorney General’s Office reportedly increased efforts to encourage victims’ participation in investigations and prosecutions by holding counseling sessions to address victims’ trauma and reduce their fear of reprisals from traffickers. Threats against trafficking victims were not formally investigated and prosecuted. All 11 victims from the December 2012 case were repatriated to their countries; many cited a lack of government assistance and threats to their safety as reason for voluntary repatriation.
The Government of Palau made minimal and inconsistent efforts to prevent trafficking. During the first half of 2013, the government established an anti-trafficking working group, but subsequently ordered the working group to cease all activities in December 2013. The group failed to develop a national action plan against trafficking and did not conduct educational or anti-trafficking public awareness campaigns. Senior Palaun officials publicly criticized the Attorney General’s anti-trafficking efforts despite the significant progress made during her tenure; the Attorney General resigned in April 2014. The government made no discernible effort to address the demand for commercial sex acts or the demand for forced labor. Palau is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.