The Marshall Islands Foreign Minister questioned the accuracy of the latest US State Department trafficking in persons report on the Marshall Islands, which demoted RMI to Tier 2 Watch List, the last step before the so-called blacklist of Tier 3. RMI was ranked Tier 2 in last year’s State Department report.
The report, released at the end of June and available on the State Department’s website, state.gov, said the Marshall Islands “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.”
Among key points, the State Department’s 2019 trafficking in persons report said the RMI government “decreased law enforcement efforts,” “decreased efforts to protect victims,” and “decreased efforts to prevent trafficking.”
The RMI was bumped to Tier 2 Watch List this year after one year at Tier 2. It was on Tier 3 in 2015 and 2016.
“Our status in terms of what brought us to Tier 2 last year remains the same,” said Foreign Minister John Silk. “So it is not entirely accurate to say that there is a decrease in RMI government efforts to protect victims, decreased law enforcement efforts, and decreased efforts to prevent trafficking.”
The RMI “government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period,” said the new trafficking report.
“In June 2018, local media alerted police to a brothel with potential child sex trafficking victims and alleged complicity of high-ranking government officials in the brothel’s operation,” said the report. “The police reportedly took no action until after the local newspaper published the story; the police investigation remained ongoing at the end of the reporting period — nine months later.”
In addition, the report said, “The government did not report efforts to identify these girls as trafficking victims or any other trafficking victims and did not report providing assistance to any potential or confirmed victims during the reporting period. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking and it had not prosecuted or convicted any traffickers since 2011. Therefore the RMI was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List.”
The RMI Attorney General’s office filed its first trafficking-related charges in the High Court against three individuals in early April. But this was after the current report’s reporting period, which ended March 31.
“I am informed by the Attorney General that there was a reported case of prostitution somewhere in Delap,” said Silk. This was reported on page one of the Journal’s June 6, 2018 edition under the headline, “Delap sex hub flourishing.” “The subject is a Chinese national and I understand that the prosecutor will be filing charges against this person soon,” Silk said.
He called the State Department report “a useful tool as far as gauging our efforts and how far we still have to go. There are a number of recommendations stemming from the report which we have taken under review. Perhaps the biggest challenge that we continue to face is the reporting commitments similar to the other human rights conventions, but nevertheless, we are, and will continue to take steps to better address this issue.”
Other Pacific islands were ranked in the 2019 report. Tier 2: FSM, Palau, Solomon Islands and Tonga; Tier 2 Watch List: Fiji, RMI; Tier 3: PNG.
Read more about this in the July 12, 2019 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.