Lebanon News

Efforts advance in fight against human trafficking

This March 8 photo shows foreign workers carrying banners during a protest marking the International Women’s Day in Beirut.

BEIRUT: A comprehensive project to boost implementation of the anti-trafficking law released two draft documents during a seminar Wednesday, the result of 30 months worth of collaborative work across agencies, security and governmental bodies, and civil society.

“We hope that with our concerted efforts we can put an end to the plague that is human trafficking, which affects all levels of our society,” said Brig. Gen. Jamal Fadlallah of General Security, the head of the department for foreigners and passports.

The project, entitled Training to Enhance Lebanon’s Anti-Trafficking Effort, began its work in October 2010 and consists of representatives from the Internal Security Forces, General Security, the Beirut Bar Association, the Justice, Interior and Social Affairs ministries, international organizations such as the UNHCR and International Labor Organization, and non-governmental organizations such as Kafa and Caritas.

The Vienna-based International Center for Migration Policy Development facilitated the project and presented its assessment during the final seminar, along with the two documents that now await Cabinet approval.

“We want to ensure protection for victims and to advocate for prosecution of those that cause trafficking around the world,” said Richard Mills, the Charge d’Affaires from the U.S. Embassy. “Those principles of protection, prevention and prosecution are enshrined in the draft National Action Plan that you presented here today and they form the cornerstone for the national implementation of [the anti-trafficking] Law 164.”

The U.S. State Department was the project’s main donor.

In 2005, the country signed the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons. The impetus for the TELAE project came after government officials and civil society groups reiterated the need to develop standard operating procedures to identify and refer potential trafficking victims to the relevant authorities. In addition, the parties voiced a need to coordinate efforts and ensure political and financial support.

Among the documents that resulted from the project, the “Standard Operating Procedures” is meant to be a step-by-step guide, outlining not only the measures to identify and refer presumed trafficking victims, but also summarizing when these measures should be taken, who is responsible for them, how they are to be implemented and how government and civil society members are to cooperate throughout the process. Rather than replace laws, the SOP guide is meant to complement existing ones.

Though intended for everyone, the SOP guide will chiefly apply to government and security bodies, as well as NGOs, which are usually the first to come in contact with victims. They relay in detail the measures involved in identifying, protecting, legally assisting and returning victims to their countries.

The guiding principle inherent to each measure relates to the wellbeing of the victim, a unique consideration as its absence in the current legal framework is often criticized by NGOs.

All the steps indicated in the SOP guide, after the initial referral of a victim to the relevant security body and prior to formal recognition of the victim as such, relates to his or her comfort and security throughout the process.

This includes ensuring the victim’s basic needs are met, including health and social services. The SOP guide also stipulates the presence of translators during interviews to guarantee that victims understand their rights.

The prescriptions of the SOP guide depend on the implementation of the ambitious National Action Plan, a model that conceives what a multi-level anti-trafficking response can look like in the country. It outlines how such a response plan should be designed, with all the partners in mind, and by whom each recommendation should be implemented.

One component of the plan pertains to coordinating relevant institutional structures, including the legal and regulatory frameworks that outline their relationship and how information is managed between them. Notably, it calls for setting up a national database for victims and perpetrators to facilitate counter-trafficking activities.

“The ISF is the first contact point for victims and has been combating human trafficking since before Law 164 on anti-trafficking was adopted,” said Col. Elie Asmar from the ISF. “Ever since [ISF commander] Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi took office we have been working and partnering with embassies, civil society organizations ... to determine the trafficking networks and their victims.”

Asmar announced that, in line with one of the plan’s recommendations, the ISF is currently working to establish a special unit to deal with human trafficking exclusively.

Another component addresses the concerns of NGOs, and incorporates SOP measures to protect victims. Most importantly, it calls for amending current laws in place and providing victims with temporary residency permits, during their ordeal.

Some activists said the anti-trafficking law of September 2011 was endorsed too quickly, without adequate time for national deliberation, and was instead a hasty response to comments made by the U.S. ambassador pressuring the government to pass the law. Some consider the current gaps in implementing the law to be a direct consequence of this initial lack of reflection.

Lebanon is considered to be a destination country for traffickers, with children and adults subjected to forced labor, prostitution and some suspect, organ trafficking.

However, all parties named the lack of reliable data to be the major obstacle to actually identifying and prosecuting perpetrators. The hallmark of the crime is the covert conditions in which it is carried out. For this reason, in a migrant domestic worker case, for instance, it is difficult for law inspectors to prove the crime is an instance of trafficking and not one of abuse, which carries lighter penalties.

“We never see the full picture,” said Melita Gruevska-Graham, project manager from ICMPD.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 21, 2013, on page 4.




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