Timor-Leste

Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Report

TIMOR-LESTE: Tier 2 Watch List

Timor-Leste is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Timor-Leste may be a source for women and girls sent to Indonesia and other countries for domestic servitude. Timorese women and girls from rural areas are lured to the capital with the promise of better employment or education prospects and subjected to sex trafficking or domestic servitude; at least one chief has been complicit in this form of trafficking. Timorese family members place children in bonded domestic and agricultural labor to pay off family debts. Foreign migrant women, including those from Indonesia, China, and the Philippines, are vulnerable to sex trafficking in Timor-Leste. Traffickers allegedly retain the passports of victims and rotate sex trafficking victims in and out of the country every few months. Transnational traffickers may be members of Indonesian or Chinese organized crime syndicates. According to some NGOs, men and boys from Burma, Cambodia, and Thailand are forced to work on foreign fishing boats operating in Timorese waters where they face conditions of confinement, no medical care, and malnutrition. Police may accept bribes from establishments involved in trafficking or from traffickers attempting to cross borders illegally. Police have been identified as clients of commercial sex venues investigated for suspected trafficking.

The Government of Timor-Leste does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the reporting period, it prosecuted and convicted a former village chief for child sex trafficking offenses. Authorities drafted guidelines for police to screen potential victims for indicators of trafficking, though this was not finalized or implemented during the year. Despite these measures, the government did not demonstrate evidence of overall increasing anti-trafficking efforts compared to the previous reporting period, therefore, Timor-Leste remains on Tier 2 Watch List. Authorities increased efforts to investigate potential sex trafficking crimes, but victim identification efforts remained inadequate, and law enforcement officials received limited training to address this gap. The government rescued two child victims, with support from an NGO, but it did not report providing services to any victims. The government conducted an anti-trafficking awareness campaign for students in seven regions of the country.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR TIMOR-LESTE:

Enact comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation that is consistent with international law, includes protections for victims, and provides clear guidance on roles and responsibilities for implementation; train front-line officials to implement procedures for the proactive identification of victims among vulnerable populations—such as women and children in prostitution and domestic work and migrant workers on fishing vessels—and refer them to protective care; proactively initiate investigations and prosecutions of trafficking offenses, and convict and punish traffickers, including complicit officials; finalize a national plan of action, designate a lead agency to coordinate these efforts, and dedicate resources to the plan’s implementation; conduct training for prosecutors and judges, including on how to integrate victim protection throughout the duration of court proceedings; and increase anti-trafficking education and awareness campaigns for the public.

PROSECUTION

The government made modest progress in anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts by achieving one conviction, compared with zero in 2013. Timor-Leste’s penal code prohibits and punishes all forms of trafficking through Articles 163 and 164; Articles 162 and 166 prohibit slavery and the sale of persons. These articles prescribe sufficiently stringent penalties ranging from eight to 25 years’ imprisonment, which are commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Extrajudicial mediation may have been used in place of prosecution, limiting victims’ access to justice and the deterrent effect of prosecutions and convictions. In late 2014, the Ministry of Justice held a public consultation on draft anti-trafficking legislation in development since 2009.

The government did not provide statistics regarding anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Media reports documented one investigation of suspected child sex trafficking initiated in February 2015, and authorities reported investigating an unknown number of pimping cases for potential trafficking crimes. A local NGO reported that a former village chief was prosecuted and convicted for child sex trafficking and sentenced under trafficking and other statutes to more than 15 years’ imprisonment in early 2015. At the close of the reporting period, he had not yet begun to serve his sentence. This is an increase from no investigations, prosecutions, or convictions in the previous year. In a separate case, a police officer suspected of forced child labor offenses retained his position while he was under investigation. Judges and prosecutors largely lacked expertise in applying anti-trafficking laws effectively. Police reported using their own funds to pursue trafficking investigations due to inadequate resource allocation from the government. Foreign donors provided anti-trafficking training to Timorese law enforcement officials.

PROTECTION

The Government of Timor-Leste demonstrated negligible efforts to protect victims. The government did not provide protection to any trafficking victims in 2014. Authorities reported police referred 14 individuals to the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MSS) to receive services, but MSS officials determined none of them were trafficking victims. An NGO reported working with law enforcement and MSS officials to rescue a child subjected to forced labor in the home of a police officer and his wife and, in February 2015, authorities rescued a child sex trafficking victim from a hotel in Dili. Although a protocol existed for the identification of victims and referral to NGOs for shelter, the government did not implement it. Identified female victims could be eligible to receive limited services available to victims of domestic violence, though local experts report the quality of care is poor and trafficking victims’ access was limited. While government policy did not restrict victim services based on gender, NGOs noted a lack of adequate resources for providing services to male victims. The government did not allocate any funds specifically to assist victims of trafficking, but it continued to provide funding to an NGO that could provide shelter and social services to trafficking victims. Local experts reported some cases may not have been identified as trafficking, even when victims came into contact with authorities. During the year, the chief inspector of the national police developed a document with guidelines for screening potential victims, though this was not formally approved or disseminated during the reporting period.

Authorities did not screen for indicators of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as individuals in prostitution; government officials acknowledged some victims may have been among those arrested and deported, particularly foreign women in prostitution apprehended for immigration violations. Local NGOs noted the overall lack of incentives to cooperate with law enforcement may have left some victims unidentified or unwilling to participate in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers. Government policy authorized a temporary (two-year) legal alternative to the removal of victims to countries where they may face retribution or hardship, though no victims were granted this status in 2014.

PREVENTION

The Government of Timor-Leste demonstrated some efforts to prevent trafficking. The government distributed literature in local communities about citizens’ rights, including information on trafficking, and it provided funding to an NGO to conduct an anti-trafficking awareness campaign for youth in seven regions. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training or guidance for its diplomatic personnel. The government’s inter-ministerial trafficking working group did not meet during the reporting period, and the draft national plan of action remained pending formal approval. The government did not take measures to reduce the demand for forced labor or commercial sex acts.