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Brunei
Friday, August 19, 2022
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Brunei
Friday, August 19, 2022
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    Brunei committee disappointed at TIP downgrade

    Hakim Hayat

    The National Committee for Trafficking in Persons (TIP) expressed disappointment that Brunei Darussalam’s efforts “have not been given fair consideration in this year’s report”, in reference to the downgrade from Tier 2 to Tier 3 in the United States’ (US) State of Department’s TIP report for 2022.

    The committee told the Weekend Bulletin yesterday that it has identified a significant number of factual inaccuracies and misrepresentations which may have impacted its performance in the report.

    Tier 1 is the highest level of compliance indicating that countries have met the minimum standards in combatting trafficking; while Tier 2 countries are those making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with the standards.

    The Sultanate was on the Tier 2 Watch List status for three consecutive years until 2021.

    Five out of 10 ASEAN member states have also been downgraded to Tier 3 in the US TIP Report 2022.

    According to US officials, Brunei does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and fail to make significant efforts to do so, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity.

    “In spite of these disappointing developments, the national committee will continue to strengthen its existing efforts to prevent and counter the threat of human trafficking in Brunei,” it said.

    The committee also said Brunei has implemented almost all recommendations set out in the 2021 report, including the prosecution of two new cases for TIP offences this year.

    “The national committee would like to reiterate that it will always continue to strengthen our existing efforts to address TIP.”

    Meanwhile, on efforts to tackle TIP, the committee said all measures related to TIP are addressed holistically and aligned with the interests of all members.

    “To this end, a National Standard Operating Procedure (NaSOP) was adopted in January 2021 with the aim of ensuring that all agencies under the national committee are capable of effectively handling TIP cases.

    “The NaSOP also includes a list of TIP indicators that is used by our personnel on the ground to identify potential human trafficking cases.

    “In addition to the NaSOP, the National Plan of Action (2019-2022) (NPA) has set out 31 deliverables which all members are committed to implement.”

    The annual TIP report is the US government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking.

    The report acknowledged the many efforts made by the Brunei government such as steps to address trafficking, including initiating a labour trafficking prosecution, increasing investigations of potential trafficking crimes, and continuing construction of dedicated male and female trafficking shelters.

    However, for the fifth consecutive year, the report said the government did not convict any traffickers under its trafficking statute. For the second consecutive year, the government did not identify any trafficking victims.

    It also added that the government continued to detain, deport, and charge potential victims for crimes without employing a victim-centred approach to discern if traffickers compelled the victims to engage in the unlawful acts.

    The report also included recommendations for Brunei to meet the TVPA minimum standards, including the need to increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, convict, and punish both sex and labour traffickers, including complicit government officials, with strong penalties; widely disseminate standard operating procedures (SOPs) for victim identification, and train all officials on the procedures, emphasising a focus on vulnerable populations; and cease the inappropriate arrest, deportation, and punishment of trafficking victims for crimes traffickers compelled them to commit.

    Other recommendations are to train judges on accurate and effective implementation of trafficking laws, through understanding the many ways coercion can be applied; train investigators and prosecutors on building trafficking cases, including collecting evidence to corroborate victim testimony; increase protective services to provide incentives for victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions, including by allowing at-will communication with people outside shelter facilities and issuing work permits to all victims.

    The report also recommended to establish a formal communication mechanism to regularly collaborate and learn from foreign government embassies about suspected trafficking crimes and ensure migrant worker contracts and information on their rights and obligations under Brunei law are available in migrant workers’ primary languages with workers retaining a copy; and issue guidelines on the prohibition of recruitment agencies charging or receiving worker-funded fees and enforce the prohibition.

    Brunei is also suggested to implement the victims’ fund to be paid directly to victims as compensation; strengthen efforts to enforce laws prohibiting acts that facilitate trafficking, such as retention or confiscation of migrant workers’ identity documents and partial or full withholding of wages; and offer foreign victims long-term alternatives to removal from the country and expand comprehensive anti-trafficking awareness campaigns directed at employers of foreign workers and buyers of commercial sex.

    In response, the national committee said each recommendation will be “assessed and implemented in accordance with our policies, law and regulations”.

    It also said that a corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action. The government prosecuted government officials involved in visa fraud under non-trafficking laws”.

    They added that the standards set in Chapter 230 of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, and Brunei Darussalam’s National Plan of Action on Trafficking in Persons (TIP) 2019-2022 are consistent with the Sultanate’s obligations and international standards under the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (UN TIP Protocol) and the ASEAN Convention on TIP (ACTIP).

    The national committee comprises the Royal Brunei Police Force, Royal Customs and Excise Department, the Labour Department and the Immigration and National Registration Department, all of which are empowered to investigate cases under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, Cap 230.

    In launching this year’s report, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that it represented a “mixed picture of progress”.

    Describing the TIP report as “one of the most comprehensive sources of information on anti-trafficking efforts by governments”, he earmarked corruption as a primary challenge in anti-trafficking efforts.

    “Corruption continues to be a top tool of traffickers,” he said.

    “Complicit government officials may turn a blind eye to illicit activities, provide false documents for workers, tip-off traffickers to impending raids. Corruption allows traffickers to continue to act with impunity.”

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