PALAU: Tier 2
Palau is a destination country for women subjected to sex trafficking and for women and men subjected to forced labor. Palau’s foreign population, about one-third of the country’s population of 21,000, is the most vulnerable to trafficking. 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 had been presented in contracts or recruitment offers, and some become trafficking victims. Women from China and the Philippines are recruited to work in Palau as waitresses or clerks, but some are subsequently forced into prostitution in karaoke bars or massage parlors—many operated by Taiwanese, Filipino, or Palauan nationals. Foreign workers on fishing boats in Palau waters experience conditions indicative of human trafficking. Regulations that make it extremely difficult for foreign workers to change employers once they arrive in Palau place foreign workers at increased risk of involuntary servitude and debt bondage. Official complicity plays a significant role in facilitating trafficking; government officials—including a governor, a police officer, a labor official, and an immigration official—have been investigated for complicity in trafficking crimes.
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 2014, the government initiated two investigations of suspected sex trafficking, identified 20 potential victims, and convicted one former labor official of misconduct that facilitated trafficking. Prosecutors charged all suspected traffickers, including allegedly complicit officials, with lesser crimes; there were no prosecutions or convictions for trafficking offenses. Officials identified all potential victims through raids on commercial sex venues; however, officials’ failure to adequately screen for indicators of trafficking during such raids may have resulted in the punishment of some unidentified victims for prostitution offenses. The government did not provide shelter or other forms of protection to identified victims, nor did it refer victims to other organizations to receive such support. The government failed to reconvene the anti-trafficking working group disbanded during the previous reporting period.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PALAU:
Using the 2005 anti-trafficking law, increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, convict sex and labor traffickers, and impose stringent penalties on convicted traffickers—including complicit officials; establish formal procedures for front-line officers to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups and refer them to protective services; use funds obtained through asset seizure or fines on convicted traffickers to support victims; increase financial and human resources devoted to victim protection efforts; do not penalize trafficking victims for illegal acts committed as a result of trafficking; develop systematic procedures to provide necessary authorization for foreign victims to remain in the country and obtain alternate employment; reassemble the national working group to combat trafficking and develop a national plan of action to guide its work; implement anti-trafficking information and education campaigns targeting vulnerable populations; enforce laws punishing employment agents for illegal practices which facilitate trafficking; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
The government continued to investigate possible sex trafficking crimes, but failed to apply its anti-trafficking law to prosecute or convict any traffickers. 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. The government prosecuted all suspected traffickers for labor violations or prostitution-related offenses instead of trafficking crimes that carry more severe penalties; offenders convicted under these other statutes received probation or nominal prison sentences.
There were no prosecutions or convictions under human trafficking laws in 2014. The government investigated two cases of prostitution that may have involved human trafficking. As a result of these investigations, six defendants were prosecuted and convicted of prostitution-related crimes and received light punishments ranging from probation to 20 days’ imprisonment, as well as fines. Authorities continued prosecutions of four foreign nationals for prostitution-related violations in a December 2012 sex trafficking case and obtained one conviction; one defendant, permitted to travel to his home country during the previous reporting period, remained abroad. A Palauan police officer in this case was charged with labor violations. Suspected trafficking cases were often alleged to involve complicit officials; in 2014, the government convicted one labor official for misconduct that contributed to foreign nationals becoming trafficking victims in Palau. The government dropped all charges against a governor of one of Palau’s states for alleged involvement in a 2013 sex trafficking case. In the same case, three prosecutions for prostitution-related crimes remained ongoing. The government investigated a labor recruiter for labor trafficking violations; it did not provide an update on a complaint filed in 2013 about working conditions that could be indicative of forced labor.
The government made limited efforts to identify victims and negligible efforts to protect victims. In 2014, the government identified 20 potential sex trafficking victims. Identified victims were given access to a government counselor. The government did not fund or provide any additional protective services for victims, nor did it report whether any victims received shelter or support from other entities. Although several trafficking-related convictions in 2014 included fines or asset forfeiture, none of these funds were used to support victims. The government did not train officers to proactively identify victims among vulnerable populations, such as foreign workers or women in prostitution. It offered only short-term legal alternatives, on an ad hoc basis, to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they might face hardship or retribution; the attorney general could designate victims as “vulnerable”, making them eligible for alternate employment and accommodation assistance, but authorities did not report whether any victims benefited from this policy in 2014. The government did not provide witness protection, and it did not formally investigate and prosecute threats against trafficking victims. NGOs report victims are sometimes detained, fined, or jailed for unlawful acts committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking.
The government decreased efforts to prevent trafficking. It did not reconstitute the anti-trafficking working group dissolved during the previous reporting period. The government neither developed a national action plan against trafficking nor conducted educational or anti-trafficking public awareness campaigns. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel. The government made no discernible effort to decrease the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. Palau is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.