The Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, released this week by the U.S. State Department, lists the Republic of the Marshall Islands as a destination country for women subjected to sex trafficking. The TIP Report places each country onto one of three tiers based on the extent of their governments’ efforts to comply with the “minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking." In its first appearance on the TIP report, the RMI was placed on Tier 2, which is for countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.
The TIP Report is the U.S. Government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking. It represents an updated, global look at the nature and scope of trafficking in persons and the broad range of government actions to confront and eliminate it.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) is a destination country for women subjected to sex trafficking. Foreign women are reportedly forced into prostitution in bars frequented by crew members of Chinese and other foreign fishing vessels; some Chinese women have been recruited with the promise of legitimate work, and after having paid large sums of money in recruitment fees, were forced into prostitution in the Marshall Islands. Little data on human trafficking in the Marshall Islands are available, as the government has not made efforts to proactively identify victims, especially among vulnerable populations such as foreign and local women in prostitution and foreign men on fishing vessels in Marshallese waters.
The government has not conducted any inquiries, investigations, studies, or surveys on human trafficking. The Government of the Marshall Islands does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government acknowledged for the first time that human trafficking occurs in the Marshall Islands, and began prosecution of a forced prostitution case during the reporting period. However, there have been reports of attempted political interference in the investigation and prosecution, and this remains a serious concern that has not been appropriately addressed. The government did not take steps to proactively identify or protect victims of sex trafficking, investigate or prosecute foreign crewmen for the commercial sexual exploitation of trafficking victims within its territory, or educate the public about human trafficking. The government devotes few resources to addressing human trafficking.
Recommendations for the Marshall Islands: Draft and enact comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation; publicly recognize and condemn incidences of trafficking; increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and punish trafficking offenders; take steps to criminally investigate and prosecute officials complicit in trafficking activities or hindering ongoing trafficking prosecutions; work with NGOs and international organizations to provide protective services to victims; make efforts to study human trafficking in the country and identify victims among vulnerable populations, such as women in prostitution, and foreign workers, including foreign fishermen; adopt proactive procedures to identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as foreign workers and women in prostitution; and develop and conduct anti-trafficking information and education campaigns.
The Government of the Marshall Islands made limited efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenders during the reporting period. The Marshall Islands has no specific laws addressing trafficking in persons. Various laws such as the criminal code and the anti-prostitution law, which prescribe punishments of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, can be used to prosecute some, but not all, forms of trafficking. The anti-prostitution law prescribes a $10,000 fine or imprisonment of up to five years for the crime of promoting prostitution. The lack of a legal definition of sex or labor trafficking that identify the essential elements of a trafficking crime prevents law enforcement officers from rescuing victims or arresting trafficking offenders on most trafficking-related charges. The lack of explicit labor rights afforded to all workers in the Marshall Islands’ labor code increases the vulnerability to forced labor. Marshall Islands authorities investigated and the Attorney General’s Office began efforts to prosecute one sex trafficking offender during the reporting period for the forced prostitution of two Chinese women, the first such prosecution of its kind in the country. The case has been rescheduled after having been delayed several times, and there were reports that senior officials attempted to interfere with the ongoing prosecution of the defendant, who reportedly has ties to senior government officials. The government failed to investigate or prosecute the reports of interference or trafficking-related complicity. The government provided no training to law enforcement or court personnel on identifying trafficking victims and prosecuting trafficking offenders.
The Government of the Marshall Islands made few efforts to ensure trafficking victims’ access to protective services during the year. Law enforcement and social services personnel do not have a formal system of proactively identifying victims of trafficking among high-risk populations with whom they come in contact. They did not identify any victims during the reporting period. Two victims identified themselves to authorities, who extended their stay in the Marshall Islands for the duration of their trafficker’s ongoing trial. The government does not provide legal alternatives to the removal of victims to countries where they may face hardship or retribution. The government does not have any mechanisms in place to ensure that trafficking victims receive access to legal, medical, or psychological services, and has no reported plans to develop the capacity to do so. The Marshall Islands government did not make efforts to identify or reach out to international organizations or community groups to provide assistance to victims of trafficking.
The government made no discernible efforts to prevent trafficking or raise public awareness of the dangers of trafficking. The government did not conduct any public awareness campaigns on trafficking. The government did not provide any training for government or law enforcement officials on how to recognize, investigate, and prosecute instances of trafficking. It took no action to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts during the reporting period. The Marshall Islands is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
- U.S. Department of State, Washington D.C., June 27, 2011