Liberia: Human Trafficking Not Their Priority

U.S. envoy shame Liberian lawmakers

Members of the Liberian Legislature are sending out a loud and clear message that human trafficking here is not their priority, United States Ambassador to Liberia Michael McCarthy has observed.

He said the Lawmakers sending that message loud and clear by their silence on Trafficking In Person (TIP), while the Executive and Judicial branches have been left to face the challenge in dealing with matters of Trafficking in Person.

He said the silence of Liberian Legislators on the issues regarding TIP is putting millions of dollars in United States assistance to this impoverished country at risk.

"The failure to make these changes--or even to engage seriously in conversation about an amendment--puts millions of dollars in U.S. assistance to Liberia at risk," Amb. McCarthy said Monday morning, 2 August at the Temple of Justice while donating a Bench - Book to the Judiciary that will guide judges and magistrates here in dealing with issues on Trafficking in Person.

The Bench - Book is an International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL)-funded TIP materials for judges, developed by the International Development Law Organization (IDLO).

During the donation, Amb. McCarthy said the commitment of prosecutors and judges here to this cause, exemplified by their partnership with IDLO and the Ministry of Justice's hosting of a U.S. judicial advisor, shows the willingness of the executive and judicial branches to face the challenge head-on.

But he said that leaves the legislative branch, saying, unfortunately, Liberian legislators have consistently failed, year after year, to make a credible effort to fight TIP.

For many years now, Amb. McCarthy continued, the TIP Report has highlighted the need to make changes--relatively simple changes--to the 2005 Human Trafficking Law.

"While I will not speculate on the reason for this inaction, I call on legislators to put their country's needs first and engage in a serious effort to reform the law," the U.S. envoy urged lawmakers here.

He noted that the return of Liberia to Tier Two Watchlist on the TIP Report was a disappointment to all and a reminder of the intense work needed to make and sustain progress.

Fortunately, he said, the TIP Report also offers a clear action plan, adding that one of the top recommendations was to "Train law enforcement and judicial officials on identifying, investigating, and prosecuting trafficking cases under the 2005 anti-trafficking law."

He deemed the International Development Law Organization as an essential partner in helping the Government of Liberia make progress on the fight against TIP.

Amb. McCarthy said with funding from the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, IDLO has developed useful TIP curricula and training materials, including the Bench-Book for Judges that he donated Monday, 2 August.

He thanked the entire IDLO team, represented by Acting Country Director Teresa Mugadza who along with Country Director Dorah Mafabi have been some of Liberia's strongest allies in this fight.

Amb. McCarthy said much work remains, from providing sufficient funding for victim-support services to increasing the number of investigations, prosecutions, and--above all--convictions.

"In support of the latter objective, INL has also contracted Senior Judicial Advisor Drew Engel, an international expert in TIP among other fields, who will be embedded with the Ministry of Justice. While he will provide valuable assistance, progress must be led by the GOL," Amb. McCarthy stressed.

Liberia's Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor who received the donation said the Bench - Book will give guidance to judges and magistrates here in dealing with human trafficking. He thanked the U.S. Government for providing the funds for the INL and the involvement of IDLO to be able to give Liberia the Bench - Book.

"I know it will enhance the knowledge of our magistrates and our judges in dealing with the issue of human trafficking. We at the Supreme Court are always ready to work with you IDLO. We need all of the support to the Judiciary in enhancing the work that we do here," he said.

"This book will go a very long way in dealing with the issue of human trafficking which I said is relatively new to our country," Chief Justice Korkpor added. He thanked the U.S. Ambassador and the Government and People of the United States, INL and IDLO "for this splendid work."

He described human trafficking as a menace in the Liberian society, noting that it involves the most vulnerable groups here. In Liberia specifically, Chief Justice Korkpor said the U.S. State Department report showed that a large segment of the people from the rural part is trafficked to the urban area and once here, there's no control.

"They can leave from here and go to neighboring country and other parts of the world. Now the issue of human trafficking is relatively new to Liberia. When I say new - in terms of dealing with it, in terms of the law applicable to it, and all of that," he said.

Chief Justice Korkpor recalled that it was in 2005 that an Act of the Legislature was passed in respect of human trafficking, then in 2012, there was an amendment to that Act, specifically addressing the issue of Trafficking In Person.

"Since that time I think Liberia has made steady progress over the years. It was based on the progress made by all of the actors from the civil society, from the Ministry of Justice, from the Judiciary that Liberia was removed from the watch-list of the U.S. Government," Chief Justice Korkpor said.

According to him, the development of this Bench - Book, will even add more to the work that they have been doing in the Judiciary because they were relying on getting laws from other sources.

Earlier, IDLO Acting Country Director Teresa Mugadza said while it is true that in partnership with the Judicial Institute, they can [provide] training, there will come a time when they will not be able to do it.

Cognizant of this, she said they need to make sure that the tools and the capacity [are] embedded in the Judiciary itself to be able to carry on the work.

Madam Mugadza also recognized IDLO's partnership and collaboration with the Judicial Institute in the development of the handbook provided to the magistrates that looks at how they can enhance adjudicating capacity when dealing with matters of Trafficking In Person.

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