Liberia: 'Prosecute Human Traffickers'

US Ambassador-at-Large recommends; highlights a 42% drop in global prosecution rates since 2015 and that human traffickers "sense no risk of getting caught."

Even though Trafficking-in-Persons is forbidden in Liberia with the Ministry of Labor and other agencies of government on the watch to curtail the practice, the United States Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking-in-Persons (TIP), John Cotton Richmond, is recommending prosecution and conviction of people caught in TIP as the best way to reduce or curtail the overwhelming social problem.

During his lecture presentation on TIP in the auditorium of the University of Liberia on September 10, 2019, Ambassador-at-Large Richmond emphasized that Trafficking-in-Persons is a criminal problem that adversely impacts public health, the environment and national security and called on governments and well meaning individuals to stop the social menace by using justice to stop women and men who have the mindset to engage in this act.

Human Trafficking, as is being widely perceived in Liberia, refers to the kidnapping of people and taking them across the border to be sold to others for enslavement. However, the conventional definition given by Ambassador-at-Large Richmond explains human trafficking as compelling someone to work or engage in a commercial sex act.

This definition applies to hundreds of thousands of cases in Liberia that a research conducted by the United States Embassy disclosed a few months ago. During her lecture to students of the African Methodist Episcopal University Graduate School in July 2019, Ambassador Christine Elder noted that human trafficking has overwhelmingly increased in Liberia with victims mostly teenagers who are brought from the interior to Monrovia by aunts and other relatives under the pretext that they would send these children to school. However, on the contrary, the children are used as domestic servants and street sellers for the benefit of their respective guardians.

Considering this definition, the US Ambassador-at-Large disclosed that 24.9 million victims of TIP are noted worldwide today, and this overwhelming figure swells because prosecution rate continues to drop.

"There has been a 42% drop in global prosecution rates since 2015, and the United States has also seen a drop in prosecution," Ambassador Richmond said, adding, "Last year, Liberia saw only 2 prosecutions and 1 conviction."

"Traffickers are not worried. They are not anxious about committing their crimes because they sense no risk of getting caught. They operate with impunity," he emphasized.

Ambassadors Richmond and Elder with students and other audience members at the Lux Talk forum at the University of Liberia

Ambassador-at-Large Richmond, who has been involved in combating human trafficking since 2002, admitted that it is a tough and challenging task to contend with due to tricks of the traffickers and the social conditions that are attached.

He said confronting challenges that face a victim of trafficking centers around broader issues of a lack of clean water, sustainable food supply, addiction, education, medical care, reliable government actors, and economic opportunity; all of which he says create a toxic cocktail of vulnerability.

These conditions, according to Ambassador Richmond, create vulnerability and are exploited by traffickers to deprive victims of their rights, make money out of them and harm them.

Curbing the situation, the Ambassador-at-Large said, requires prevention and protection in addition to prosecution, so that victims will feel protected and traffickers will feel rejected because of their inhumane acts.

During Ambassador Richmond's visit to Liberia, he met with President George Weah and some members of his cabinet, as well as heads of civilian security agencies. In his meeting with the President, the two men discussed Liberia's TIP National Plan and the country's Tier 2 Watch List ranking in the U.S. State Department's annual Trafficking-in-Persons Report on government efforts to combat trafficking.

According to Human Trafficking Search, A Tier 2 ranking reflects countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance. Then there is the Tier 2 Watch List ranking which, like the Tier 2 ranking, is given to countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA's minimum standards and are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance but includes specific conditions different from Tier 2. Those conditions include that the government at issue: (1)is seeing increases or large numbers of trafficking victims, (2) demonstrates a lack of evidence of significant efforts to improve its human trafficking record, and (3) commits to taking future steps to improve.

Liberia is on the U.S. State Department's human trafficking watchlist, and the Weah administration is under pressure to take affirmative action to mitigate the problem or face some consequences-may strain diplomatic ties between both countries.

According to the U.S. State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Liberia has ratified and acceded to the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress & Punish Trafficking in Persons, as well as the ILO Convention 182, Elimination of Worst Forms of Child Labour. The country has also signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, as well as the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Armed Conflict. Other international instruments ratified by Liberia include the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 105, for the Abolition of Forced Labour and the ILO Convention 189, concerning decent work for domestic workers (2011).

The Ambassador also met with civil society organizations working to monitor trafficking cases, to help victims of trafficking and to bring perpetrators to justice. He then participated in a meeting of the Liberian government's interagency TIP Task Force, led by Labor Minister Moses Kollie, and he was also able to meet with Liberian prosecutors from the Ministry of Justice.

His lecture carried out in the auditorium of the University of Liberia came as a result of an invitation extended him by the university's authority to form a part of the LUX TALK program that brings prominent intellectuals together to discuss issues of public and academic interest.

The lecture, held on September 10, brought together students of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, Professional Studies and university staff.

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