Anti-trafficking work pays off

Of the 31 arrests in Namibia relating to human trafficking in 2019, 20 were linked to forced labour and 11 to sex trafficking, while the country has also initiated seven labour and eight sex trafficking cases in the courts.

29 June 2020 | Local News

JANA-MARI SMITH

WINDHOEK



The Namibian government's commitment to address labour and sex slavery and support victims of human trafficking has earned it a top ranking in the 2020 United States Trafficking in Persons (TIP) annual report.

Namibia joins 34 out of 188 countries that achieved a tier one ranking this year for meeting the minimum requirements to eliminate trafficking according to international guidelines. Namibia was also one of 22 countries that received a tier upgrade, 13 of them from sub-Saharan Africa.

US secretary of state Michael Pompeo, at the launch of the report last week, highlighted Namibia's achievement, saying it is the “first and only African country to do so since 2012”.

Namibia was ranked tier two from 2016 to 2019. Prior to that, Namibia was graded 'tier two, watch list' for four consecutive years.

Tier one rankings are country-specific and reflect a government that fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, while also comparing its efforts during the reporting period to the year before.



Great strides

The achievement received glowing praise from many quarters, including US ambassador to Namibia, Lisa Johnson, who said Namibia has made great strides in the fight against human trafficking over the past year and more.

She pointed to several key achievements, including bringing into force the Combatting of Trafficking in Persons Act of 2018, the referral of all 30 identified trafficking survivors to care shelters, and the high number of prosecutions underway, as well as those successfully concluded.

Johnson said while the past year's work was crucial for the upgrade, the tier one grading “is not just a reflection of the last year's progress, but a reflection over time of how far Namibia has come - from a time when it wasn't recognised as a crime and Namibia didn't think it had a trafficking problem”.

Of the 31 arrests related to human trafficking in 2019, 20 were linked to forced labour and 11 to sex trafficking. Namibia furthermore initiated seven labour and eight sex trafficking cases in the courts.

Johnson underlined that addressing human trafficking is teamwork, and Namibia's success was due in large part to the government's commitment to tackle the problem and the collaboration between private and public officials and organisations.



Maturity

In an exclusive interview with Namibia Media Holdings on Friday, US ambassador-at-large John Cotton Richmond, who leads the US State Department's office to monitor and combat trafficking in persons in Washington DC, said Namibia's 2018 anti-trafficking law put it on “course for the success it is currently seeing”.

He described the anti-trafficking progress and work over the past year as an “incredibly encouraging story”.

Unlike many other countries, Namibia's anti-trafficking work is focused on both sex and labour trafficking, with Richmond saying that recognising the various forms of human slavery “is a sign of maturity within an anti-trafficking programme”.

He added that another key step that earned Namibia a tier one ranking was that the comprehensive legal framework was put to good use instead of gathering dust.



'Imprisonment is key'

“Far too often these laws don't get used. They don't get delivered to the people they are intended to protect,” he pointed out.

One of the key minimum standards evaluated each year by TIP teams is to what degree a country implements relevant laws in its fight against modern-day slavery, he explained.

Ambassadors Richmond and Johnson said stringent penalties for trafficking crimes are vital in the global fight against modern-day slavery.

Richmond said there is a troubling trend in many places around the world where traffickers are convicted but then given a slap on the wrist, allowed to walk free or simply fined.

He said apart from accountability for a vicious crime, imprisonment is key for victims to know their tormentors are behind bars.

Johnson said the crime of human trafficking is comparable to violent crimes such as murder and rape and said the “penalties have to match the crime”.



Room for improvement

Johnson emphasised that all tier one countries still have room for improvement and all governments, including “the United States and Namibia have to continue to improve their efforts to fight against trafficking and protect victims”.

She underlined that priority focus areas going forward include increased training of frontline responders and officials on the anti-trafficking law, the national referral mechanism and standard operating procedures.

Moreover, Namibia should focus on strengthening coordination and communication between government offices and other role-players.

Richmond added: “Now is not a time to pause, to take the foot of the gas. This is the time to do even more, with the momentum that has already been generated.”

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