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Preliminary findings on the visit to Seychelles, UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in persons, especially women and children, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo

MAHE (31 January 2014)

Seychelles should accelerate its efforts in putting in place appropriate mechanisms to prevent and combat trafficking in persons, especially women and children

Background and context

At the invitation of the Government, I conducted an official visit to the country from 27 to 31 January 2014 to examine the phenomenon of trafficking in person, identify challenges and progress made, assess responses taken to combat human trafficking and engage constructively with relevant authorities and actors on key issues and possible ways of addressing them.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Government for its full cooperation extended to me prior and during the visit. Further, I would like to commend the Government for extending an open and standing invitation to Special Procedures mandate holders, which has opened new avenues to engage with the government with regards to domestic implementation of human rights.

Furthermore, I appreciate the President’s -H.E Mr. James Alix MICHEL, President of the Republic of Seychelles, interest in my visit and for personally engaging with me on this issue, which I see as a strong demonstration of his political will to address the phenomenon of trafficking in persons.

During my visit, I met with Government officials in Mahe including the Minister for Labour and Human Resource Development, the Minister of Community Development, Social Affairs and Sports, the Minister for Tourism and Culture, Minister for Health and the Minister for Home Affairs and Transport. I also held meetings with the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Principal Secretary for the Department of Social Affairs, Principal Secretary of Immigration and Civil Status, members of the National Assembly, the Ambassador for Women and Children, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Attorney General and the Commissioner of Police. I further engaged with the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission and members of the National Committee on Trafficking in Persons. I also interacted with members of the civil society organisations and the media. In addition, I visited the President’s children village, a temporary guest house for irregular migrants, the migrant holding area in the Central Police Station and the Indian Ocean Tuna factory. Finally, I exchanged views with representatives of the United Nations Agencies and the British and Indian High Commissioners for Seychelles. I regret that I couldn’t meet with any trafficked person as none was identified either by the Government or NGOs consulted.

The phenomenon of trafficking in persons in Seychelles is at best insidious and remains hidden as a result of lack of awareness. Notwithstanding, there are numerous anecdotal evidence suggesting that trafficking in persons happens in Seychelles and that the country may increasingly become a destination country for both trafficking for sexual exploitation, especially of girls from Eastern Europe and also for labour exploitation for migrant workers from India, China, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Philippines, Kenya, Madagascar etc. There is indication of growing use of migrant domestic workers, especially from Philippines, Nepal and Sri Lanka. They were also reports of possible trafficking into fishing vessels/trawlers following the case of Pakistanis found abandoned in fishing vessels. Furthermore, there are cases of sexual exploitation of Seychellois girls by both their boyfriends/pimps and also families. Drug and substance abuse also fuel girls’ vulnerability to in- country sex trafficking.

Given its geographic location, the relatively small size of its population and its economic development, Seychelles has a large influx of both tourist and migrant workers. There were an estimated 230,272 tourists in 2013, almost three times the size of its population and the number of migrant workers constituted about 20 per cent of its population. Few cases of mixed migration and trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation reportedly involving Indians, Bangladeshi, and Chinese semi-skilled male migrant workers in the construction sector, were identified.

Positive developments

I would like to underline Seychelles resolve to fight against trafficking in persons, as reflected by the country’s ratification of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Palermo protocol) and other major international human rights instruments including: the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; the Convention on the Rights of the Child, including the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. At the regional level Seychelles is a party to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and its Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, and the Southern African Development Community Gender and Development Protocol.

Furthermore, at the national level, I positively acknowledge the recent Amendment to the Employment Act establishing a national minimum wage which also applies to foreign workers. I further welcome the Protection of Human Rights Act ( no. 3 of 2009) that promotes witness protection; the Proceeds of Crime Act, Act 2008 ( civil confiscation) that applies to confiscation of property acquired form criminal conduct; and the Evidence Act, 2009 that allows hearing in camera to protect child victims of sexual violence. I hope that the draft law will extend such protection to victims of trafficking before, during and after trial to protect them from reprisal attacks, stigmatization and embarrassment.

I also welcome the establishment of the National Anti-trafficking Committee, a multi-sectoral committee with members drawn from relevant line ministries and government departments, and CSOs and its role in facilitating both the drafting of the anti-trafficking bill and the national plan of action to combat trafficking.

The political commitment to end human trafficking clearly exists in Seychelles notwithstanding there are numerous concerns.

Critical areas of concerns

I have noted a number of challenges that must be addressed by the Government if it is to succeed to effectively combat trafficking in persons and protect the human rights of trafficked victims.

The immediate concern is absence of legal and policy framework to prevent and combat trafficking in persons. Consequently, human trafficking is not an offence which makes it difficult to prosecute and punish traffickers. Despite ratification of Palermo Protocol and the provisions of the Constitution, especially article 17 which protects against slavery and forced or compulsory labour; human trafficking is not a specific crime under the Penal Law of Seychelles. It should be recalled that articles 5 and 2 of the Palermo Protocol require ratifying States Parties to take legislative steps to criminalize trafficking; protect the human rights of victims and to prevent and combat trafficking in persons.

Although, there are penalties for offences against liberty, including abduction, kidnapping, kidnapping of a child under the age of 14 years, traffic in slaves, and forced labour, there is no evidence that these have been used or indeed anyone has been convicted under those provisions for acts relating to trafficking. Rather there is fear that the laws on forced prostitution and exploitation may criminalize/victimize women and children. Since Seychelles has ratified the Palermo Protocol it has the obligation to criminalize and punish traffickers while protecting the human rights of victims of trafficking.

The potential scale of the problem of trafficking in persons, its trends and scope appears to be somewhat underestimated/ unknown and needs to be further investigated by the Government and law enforcement agencies. To date, there is no statistical information on trafficking in persons in Seychelles.

More worrisome is the fact that victims are hardly ever identified even under existing laws that could be used to address the issue of trafficking to a limited extent. I am concerned that in critical sectors of the economy such as tourism and fisheries the government is yet to proactively put in place measures that will discourage sex tourism, child prostitution and trafficking in persons for labour exploitation.

With regard to children, I am further concerned about allegations of child prostitution and sexual exploitation of girls and boys in connection with the prevalent drug problem, especially in the main Island of Mahe. The difference between age of consent for sexual intercourse and the legal age of majority creates difficulties in tackling child prostitution and punishing offenders.

Moreover, I note the absence of shelter, psycho-social support for victims of gender based violence, including trafficked persons despite the rising cases of domestic violence even though, the family Violence (Protection of Victims) Act 2000 offers protection to victims of family violence, through protection orders.
Furthermore, I am worried by the lack of holding facilities for irregular migrants who are currently and inappropriately kept in police cells. There is also fear that the speed with which irregular, including prohibited migrants are deported may not allow for thorough investigations and possible identification of trafficked persons and traffickers.

Labour inspection may be limited given its size and resources in exercising effectively its oversight function of inspection of businesses. A number of complaints were made, especially in the construction industry about working conditions, including non-payment of salaries and retention of passports indicative of exploitation of foreign migrant workers and their likelihood to be held in situation of trafficking.

While acknowledging the sporadic attempts at awareness raising for members of the Inter-Ministerial Committee, efforts to prevent and combat human trafficking remains at an embryonic stage and not systemic. The general population and the civil society remain mostly unaware and uninformed of the issue of trafficking. Moreover, institutions for protection of human rights are not strong and may send a wrong signal contrary to Government’s affirmation of human rights and State responsibility to protect, respect and remedy human rights violations.
The issue of the National Human Rights Commission and the Office of Ombudsman residing in one person may be subject to abuse and dissuade public’s interest and trust in using those institutions.

In view of the above observations I make the following preliminary recommendations to Seychelles:

NATIONAL FRAMEWORK

  • Fast track the draft anti-trafficking bill for a comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation to comply with requirements of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children. This legislation should clearly define and criminalize trafficking in person offences; prescribe sufficiently stringent punishments on perpetrators as well as provide effective remedy for victims of trafficking.
  • Formally establish the anti-trafficking committee by law as a focal agency to combat and prevent human trafficking and to coordinate all anti-trafficking initiatives of the government and partner organizations.
  • Finalize and adopt the National Action Plan to combat trafficking based on a human rights and victim centered approach, and ensure that appropriate budget is allocated towards its implementation.
  • Carry out a baseline formative research to collect data on trends, forms and manifestation of trafficking, its causes and consequences. This survey should be carried out in collaboration with research institution and in close cooperation with international organizations, CSOs and Faith based organizations.

IDENTIFICATION, TRAINNING AND CAPACITY BUILDING

  • Specifically establish protocols/guidelines for the identification of victims, defining red flags and indicators to look for while screening vulnerable persons, tourists and migrant workers. It is pertinent to observe that accurate and quick identification of victims of trafficking is crucial to activating other action, especially for investigation and prosecution of traffickers, including referrals that would allow for adequate assistance and protection for victims.
  • Provide comprehensive training programs with support from interested partners, including donor organizations and other governments to enhance knowledge and awareness of human trafficking for all stakeholders, especially the police, the Defense force, the immigration and border agents, prosecutors, judges and lawyers, as well as labor inspectors; and also the civil society organizations, including the media on effective reporting on trafficking in persons. Additionally, train all stakeholders involved in providing assistance and care to victims of trafficking.

SUPPORT SERVICE FOR VICTIMS OF TRAFFICKING

  • Put measures in place to protect and assist all victims of trafficking, including child victims of sexual exploitation, with full respect for their human rights, including the provision of comprehensive assistance such as shelter, social, psychological, medical, legal support, as well as translation assistance and interpretative services in accordance with article 6 (6) of the Palermo Protocol.
  • Put in place a free 24 hours confidential hotline/helpline for reporting suspected cases of trafficking and exploitation of migrant workers. This should also be accessible to foreign victims of trafficking and serviced by multi-lingual staff who have received specialized training on trafficking in persons.
  • Maintain close cooperation with the UN system, especially UNODC, and IOM for the identification and the safe return of trafficked victims to their country having due regard to the need, if any, of international protection in line with the 1951 Refugee Convention and the application of the principle of non refoulement.
  • Strengthen the National Human Rights Commission and provide funding that will enhance its effectiveness in accordance with the Paris Principles.

PREVENTION

  • Take urgent action using multi-media approach to create public awareness about all forms of trafficking in persons, including for domestic servitude, forced labour and sexual exploitation, in order to promote understanding of what constitutes trafficking; among the general population and the foreign community based Seychelles. In this regard, all islands should be sensitized and efforts should not be concentrated in the capital city alone. Furthermore, efforts should be directed through the tourism ministry to inform tourists and other stakeholders in the tourism industry about zero tolerance policy of the government and the international community in fighting human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children.

PROSECUTION

  • Assess technical assistance towards building the capacity of its frontline officers, including Police, Immigration, Labour Inspectors, Prosecutors to identify possible victims of trafficking, carry out necessary investigation and the prosecution of criminals involved.
  • Once the anti-trafficking law is in place the government should through the Attorney General Office and the Supreme Courts train and impart specialists’ skills to Prosecutors, State Counsels and Judges which will focus on human rights based approach to prosecution of trafficking cases, including effective remedies for trafficked persons.

INTERNATIONAL FRAMEWORK

  • Ratify without delay relevant ILO Conventions against forced labour and exploitation, especially the recent Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers (ILO 189).
  • Recognize the need for foreign work force and develop safe migration pathways for skilled and semi-skilled workers by entering into bilateral agreements with countries of origin and ensuring that unscrupulous recruitment agencies do not take undue advantage of migrant workers in search of livelihood.

Conclusion

I wish to emphasize that the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons requires ratifying State Parties to take effective and comprehensive action to prevent and combat trafficking in persons, especially women and children, protect and assist the victims as well as prosecute and punish traffickers.

I want to reinforce the call made during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Seychelles at the Human Rights Council in Geneva urging the government to adopt and implement measures to protect women and children from domestic violence, sexual exploitation and trafficking in persons. Trafficking in persons, especially of women and children is also a form of gender based violence yet, there is no specialized protection and support provided to victims of such violence. I urge the government to finalize and enact without further delay the draft anti-trafficking law and to approve also, including with budget the National Action Plan to combat human trafficking.

As I have been advocating, a holistic, effective and sustainable approach to combating trafficking must be hinged on the following 5 P’s (Protection, Prosecution, Punishment, Prevention, and Promotion of International cooperation and partnership), 3’Rs (Redress, Rehabilitation/Recovery and Reintegration of victims) and 3’Cs (Capacity, Cooperation and Coordination).

Yes Seychelles is an island but not an island out of reach of traffickers and their nefarious activities in today’s globalized world where transnational organized crimes continue to challenge and shame humanity. Thus, proactive measures and vigilance must be paid to avoid making this beautiful island a passage or haven for traffickers.

Finally, I appreciate the strong leadership expressed by Mr. President—His Excellency Mr. James Alix MICHEL - to fight this phenomenon and ensure that it doesn’t take root in Seychelles. I will be counting on his political will to ensure urgent action and in particular towards implementation of my findings.

A full report of this mission will be submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2014.

For the use of the media; not an official record.