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Cablegate: Laos: Tip Interim Assessment

VZCZCXYZ0006
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHVN #0857/01 3301028
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 261028Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY VIENTIANE
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 1660

UNCLAS VIENTIANE 000857

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KCRM KWMN ELAB PHUM PGOV PREL LA
SUBJECT: LAOS: TIP INTERIM ASSESSMENT

REF: STATE 148541

1. Summary: While the GOL has made great strides in getting its
legal house in order to combat human trafficking, and has also make
progress in protecting returning trafficking victims, it needs to do
more to address the growing problem of internal human trafficking.
Post does not have updated information on prosecutions and has
nothing new to report. The paragraphs below address the specific
areas listed in Refel, paragraph 6, part E. End summary.

2. Anti-trafficking legislation: Although Laos does not have a
single, comprehensive law against human trafficking, current
legislation criminalizes the offense with stiff penalties, and
includes specific provisions against force, fraud, and coercion.
Under the Law on the Development and Protection of Women, Part IV
"The Protection of Women and Children Against Trafficking and
Domestic Violence," Chapter 1, Article 24, defines trafficking as
the "recruitment, hiding, moving, transportation, transfer,
harboring, or receipt of women within or across national borders, by
means of deception, the giving or receiving of bribes, threats, the
use of force, the use of other forms of coercion, abduction, debt
bondage or by other means, for forced labor, prostitution,
publishing pornography and what is in the contradiction to fine
national culture, the removal of various body parts, or for other
unlawful purposes." According to the law, trafficking "shall be
regarded to have occurred" if the victims are children [of either
gender] under age 18, "even though there is no deception, threat,
force, or debt bondage." Laws to criminalize trafficking of all
persons, including men, are also found under Article 134 of the
Criminal Code, using the same definition. This article repeats the
provision that crimes against children under age 18 are considered
trafficking offenses even in the absence of force, fraud, coercion,
or "financial constraints." There is an additional law passed in
2005 to specifically address trafficking in children across
international borders.

Penalties for trafficking offenses include "privation of liberty"
for 5 to 15 years and fines of 1000-5000 USD (note per capita income
in Laos is approximately $570 per annum). The penalty becomes 15-20
years imprisonment and fines of 10,000-50,000 USD under certain
circumstances, including if the trafficker is a repeat offender,
part of an organized group, the victim is a child, there is more
than one victim in the case, the victim is seriously injured,
physically maimed or has "lost mental faculties," or if the
perpetrator is a close relative of the victim. Finally, if the
victim dies, contracts AIDS, or is permanently disabled, the
trafficker can be sentenced to death or life in prison and will face
higher fines. The state can seize the assets of human traffickers
in all cases.

3. Eliminating the practice of fining trafficking victims returning
to Laos: In 2005, the Prime Minister ordered an end to the practice
of fining or otherwise punishing victims of trafficking. In early
2007, the GOL abolished the rule requiring Lao citizens to get an
exit permit to depart the country. The change in the law greatly
assisted in reducing the practice of fining trafficking victims and
migrant laborers, as local and immigration authorities can no longer
"punish" victims for a violation of domestic law in failing to
procure that permit. According to Post's contacts with IOM, various
UN agencies, and NGOs involved in anti-trafficking work, provincial
and district authorities have "gotten the message," albeit
grudgingly. None of the organizations we spoke to could identify a
specific instance of identified trafficking victims forced to pay
fines to local authorities for returning home. (Monitoring of
returned victims, incidentally, has greatly improved, with IOM and
AFESIP both working with local Departments of Labor and Social
Welfare to track reintegration procedures and programs.) The
Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare and other GOL parties continue
to instruct provincial authorities that they cannot fine returning
trafficking victims.

4. Combatting internal trafficking: The primary focus of the GOL
continues to be on trafficking across international borders. There
have been a few recent instances of efforts to address internal
trafficking, including statements on the importance of combating
internal trafficking by senior Lao government officials, but the
bulk of the work is still centered on victims returning from abroad.
While this is consistent with the current research on trafficking
patterns for Laos, internal trafficking is likely to grow with the
development of improved transportation networks. The Law Women's
Union shelter, one of three shelters for trafficking victims in
Laos, provides assistance primarily to victims of internal
trafficking or domestic violence. Some small efforts to prevent
internal trafficking and educate local authorities continue, as in
the case of the June workshop for officials from the Ministry of
Communication, Transport, Post and Construction and their local
counterparts from northern provinces in June (road construction up
north is seen as a potential risk factor for human trafficking).

5. Prosecution, including of public officials complicit in human
trafficking: Post does not have new official information on law
enforcement activity at this time. We will provide more information
on the data when we have it from the Ministry of Public Security.

6. New developments: AFESIP and the Ministry of Labor and Social
Welfare broke ground on a shelter for victims of trafficking in
Savannakhet province, which should open next year. This will not
only expand the resources available to provide services to victims
but also allows victims to be cared for closer to home and will
assist with monitoring reintegration efforts in the south.
(Currently there are three shelters for trafficking victims, all in
Vientiane.) In June, the Lao Bar Association began a legal aid
clinic for victims of human rights abuses, including trafficking
victims. The Bar Association is currently working on one case for a
victim of internal trafficking and one of cross-border trafficking.
Neither case has been referred to the police yet. The legal aid
clinic, although small, is a promising avenue for victims of
internal trafficking, since they do not have any formal 'screening'
procedures that would identify them to the authorities and may need
additional assistance in navigating the legal procedures to bring
their traffickers to justice. Also in June, the GOL hosted a
conference by U.S. professor Dr. Robin Haarr with over 100
officials, including representatives from the Ministry of Public
Security, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Labor and Social
Welfare, and a number of other offices. At the workshops, Dr.
Haarr, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice & Police Studies at
Eastern Kentucky University, reviewed the internationally-accepted
definitions of trafficking and described the dynamics, causes, and
impact of human trafficking on individuals and communities. Dr.
Haarr traveled to Savannakhet to hold a similar workshop with about
40 local officials.

Post will cover additional significant developments in further
detail when we submit our information for the annual TIP report.


HUSO

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