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Cablegate: G/Tip Ambassador Encourages Reform in Hong Kong

DE RUEHHK #2340/01 3570855
P 230855Z DEC 09




E.O. 12958: N/A

(U) This document is sensitive but unclassified. Please
protect accordingly. Not for release outside U.S. government
channels. Not for internet publication.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: G/TIP Ambassador Luis CdeBaca,s December 4
meetings with senior Hong Kong officials, consulates, NGOs,
and the media stressed the USG was committed to tackling TIP,
and that the Hong Kong Government (HKG) and other governments
needed a paradigm shift in their approach to formulating and
enforcing modern anti-slavery laws. Hong Kong officials
vigorously defended their record of enforcing existing
legislation. The Chief Secretary (CS) and Secretaries of
Security and Labor/Welfare all stressed the importance of the
US-HK relationship, particularly in law enforcement, but
insisted that TIP was not a problem in Hong Kong, and that
law enforcement was committed to cracking down on sex
trafficking and labor violations. CS Henry Tang stressed the
HKG,s disappointment in the Tier 2 downgrade, asked whether
the U.S. was "moving the goal posts," and expressed hope the
U.S. and Hong Kong could "put this all behind us in next
year's report." Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee and
Secretary for Labor and Welfare Matthew Cheung listened
intently to Ambassador CdeBaca's presentation, while
defending Hong Kong's existing approach to TIP in a two-hour
meeting that also included senior HKG labor, immigration and
police officials. Secretary Cheung vigorously stressed his
Bureau's determination to enforce labor laws related to
foreign domestic workers (FDW). He criticized Indonesia for
exporting the debt bondage problem to Hong Kong and giving
the HKG a bad name. Similarly, Secretary Lee, while
"treasuring the relationship" with the U.S., said "a fair
assessment of HK would further amicable relations on both
sides." Ambassador CdeBaca also met with seven NGOs who were
generally critical of HKG performance, particularly with
respect to legal protection and social services for FDWs and
restrictions on FDWs, ability to change employers. The
Indonesian and Philippines consulates shared their views on
the conditions FDWs faced in Hong Kong. END SUMMARY

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CS Tang: "Downgrade Left a Bad Taste in Our Mouths"
--------------------------------------------- ------

2. (SBU) In his meeting with Ambassador CdeBaca, Chief
Secretary (CS) Tang expressed appreciation for the full range
of cooperation with the U.S and stressed the HKG wanted to
work together on all fronts. He noted his disappointment
that Hong Kong had been ranked under Tier Two and was
surprised to hear that Hong Kong had in any way not been
cooperative on TIP. He said Hong Kong "welcomes people" but
"does not welcome people here illegally," saying that
authorities took a robust stance on economic migrants, just
as the U.S. did with Mexico. Tang maintained that Hong
Kong,s legal system was "ample and adequate." Tang also
asked, based on a report it had received from the Hong Kong
Economic and Trade Office in Washington, if the U.S. was
"moving the goal posts" on TIP. He said he didn't want TIP
to become a stumbling block for other issues and areas of
US-HK cooperation, as the downgrade "left a bad taste in our
mouths." He said he wanted the U.S. to know "where Hong Kong
was coming from." He hoped the U.S. and Hong Kong could "put
this behind us in the next TIP report." Tang asked if the
U.S. would rank itself on the Tier Two watch list next year
and wondered what that ranking might be. He noted that Hong
Kong,s ability to work with its friends on mutual problems,
such as drug trafficking, was a principle that had served it
well over the years. However, Hong Kong did not like being
judged by others who were saying it was not doing a good job.

3. (SBU) Ambassador CdeBaca responded that it was important
in our relationship to have honesty and to work together as
law enforcement partners. It was also important for the U.S.
to be open with its partners on international norms and
standards. It was in that spirit that the TIP ranking was
made. The Ambassador noted that continued, sustained, forward
momentum was needed for territories to maintain Tier 1
status. He recounted his meeting with HKETO Commissioner
Tong in Washington where he stressed the importance of HK,s
very capable law enforcement agencies, which are the envy of
the world having modern anti-TIP law enforcement tools that
meet global standards. The Ambassador noted that the
majority of modern-day slavery occurred in Asia and many
victims were trapped in debt bondage due to high recruiting
fees. This occurred in the U.S. as well. He also noted that
over half the countries in the world now had modern anti-TIP
laws, replacing legislation that was in many cases based on
UK laws from the 1880s. Ambassador CdeBaca stated that Hong
Kong,s trafficking in persons law is also based on the 1880s
UK law and should be updated to include labor trafficking.
Victim identification, prevention, and outreach were minimum

HONG KONG 00002340 002 OF 005

standards which were all accomplishable, said Ambassador

4. (SBU) CS Tang cautioned that it was necessary to strike a
balance between deterring illegal immigration and exercising
compassion when dealing with potential TIP victims, but
didn't think TIP was a problem in Hong Kong. Based on Hong
Kong's experience, those who entered the territory illegally
were economic migrants with whom Hong Kong dealt in a
compassionate manner, and whose rights were preserved. Tang
described foreign domestic workers (FDWs) as "part of the
community" and insisted there were few cases of abuse,
although fights with employers were natural.

Security, Labor Secretaries Defend Hong Kong,s Approach
--------------------------------------------- ---------

5. (SBU) In a two-hour meeting with Secretary for Security
Ambrose Lee, Secretary for Labor and Welfare Matthew Cheung,
and key law enforcement, labor and social welfare officials,
Ambassador CdeBaca noted that the U.S. initially lacked the
legal tools needed to combat TIP in the 1990s. Only when
Congress passed a comprehensive law aimed at protecting TIP
victims in 2000 did law enforcement agencies and prosecutors
obtain sufficient tools to fight a crime that no longer was
restricted to cross-border movement of people for
prostitution. Modern-day slavery consisted of all forms of
forced labor, he explained, and anti-TIP laws needed to
reflect that reality. Ambassador CdeBaca encouraged Hong
Kong to expand its conception and definition of TIP to focus
more on conditions of exploitation, whether for sexual
services or other forms of forced labor, and not solely on
whether cross-border movement occurred. (Comment: Although
the Secretaries and law enforcement officials listened
politely, their subsequent comments demonstrated their
interpretation of TIP remained tied to illegal migration and
smuggling. End Comment)

6. (SBU) Noting that the Palermo Protocol defined TIP as the
entire process--from recruitment to transferring to the
receipt of persons--for the purpose of exploitation,
Ambassador CdeBaca explained that the U.S. recently amended
the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to allow the U.S. to
prosecute foreign recruiters abroad for using fraudulent
recruiting practices on TIP victims sent to or already in the
U.S. He noted that Indonesian and Philippine FDWs in Hong
Kong incurred enormous debt from recruiters in their home
countries, but Hong Kong currently had no legal means to
prosecute those recruiters for TIP. He suggested Hong Kong
explore ways to expand its territorial jurisdiction to
enhance its anti-TIP regime, explaining that the U.S had
passed a statute that extended its jurisdiction along the
entire chain back to the source country. The Ambassador
stressed that the objective should be to punish people who
enslave others while helping those who are enslaved to
receive the services they need. He also noted the hidden
nature of trafficking crimes, and urged Hong Kong authorities
to move to more proactive work on the issue.

7. (SBU) While listening attentively, Secretaries Cheung and
Lee maintained that Hong Kong's labor laws offered adequate
protection to FDWs and that both sex trafficking and forced
labor were not problems in Hong Kong. Cheung acknowledged
the large debt incurred by Indonesian FDWs was a huge burden
on the workers, but blamed the Indonesian government for
exporting the debt problem to Hong Kong. He noted that he
had written the Indonesian Consul General twice about
lowering the fees charged to FDWs. The debt issue was "a
hard nut to crack" because the Indonesian government insisted
the fees were charged in a transparent manner and the FDWs
knew what they were signing up for. Faced with this reality,
Cheung stressed the HKG instructed Hong Kong employers not to
get involved with arrangements made between the FDW and the
recruitment agency in the source country. He thanked the
Ambassador for his inspiring presentation, but noted that it
would be very difficult for a territory of Hong Kong,s size
and dependency on foreign trade to extend legal jurisdiction
to source countries of trafficked victims.

8. (SBU) While he "could not rule out one or two cases may
occur" where crime syndicates tricked women to come to Hong
Kong and later forced them into prostitution, Secretary for
Security Lee insisted most of the women were "economic
migrants" who came willingly to work in Hong Kong's sex
trade. In some instances, prostitutes repatriated to the
Mainland attempted to re-enter Hong Kong under a different
identity, explained Lee. Ambassador CdeBaca responded by
saying that the UN Palermo Protocol did not require movement
in defining trafficking, noted that there was more

HONG KONG 00002340 003 OF 005

non-coerced movement of prostitution than coerced, and
emphasized that initial consent of an individual to engage in
prostitution was irrelevant in determining whether or not
they were a trafficking victim. In closing, Secretary Lee
said, "while treasuring the relationship, a fair assessment
of Hong Kong would further amicable relations on both sides."

Roundtable with NGOs

9. (SBU) During a roundtable with local NGOs, NGO leaders
described the legal limbo some FDWs found themselves in if
their employer terminates the employment contract or they
file a complaint against the employer. International Social
Service (ISS) Director of Development Adrielle Panares
described a scenario where an employer may decide to fire the
helper after learning sh needed extensive medical care, thus
alleviating the employer of the responsibility to pay medical
bills. Because the FDW was no longer employed and thus not
considered a Hong Kong resident, she would have to pay the
subtantially higher medical fees non-residents are chaged.
Ambassador CdeBaca noted the arrangement wa a disincentive
for exploited FDWs to complain fr fear of losing their
resident status and all is associated benefits.

10. (SBU) Panares also hghlighted a loophole in Hong Kong
laws that FDWs ere increasingly using to extend their stay
beyond the two weeks allowed once an employment contract was
terminated. She told Ambassador CdeBaca that she had seen a
steady increase in FDWs applying for refugee or asylum status
when caught by police for overstaying or working illegally.
The FDWs hoped to remain in Hong Kong and receive
government-funded shelter and social services provided to
asylum and refugee applicants. (Note: The Hong Kong
government funds ISS to provide shelter, food, clothing and
transportation for asylum seekers, torture claimants and
refugees. End note.) The NGO representatives agreed FDWs
were forced to take this route because the two-week grace
period is often not enough time to find a new employer, and
the FDWs were desperate to make money.

11. (SBU) ISS Panares stated, and other NGOs agreed, that the
2009 TIP Report downgrade of Hong Kong had an impact on HKG
authorities, willingness to engage with NGOs on the TIP
issue. While the Social Welfare Bureau handled victim
assistance for the most part, ISS noted that the Security
Bureau held the most power. Raids of sex establishments led
to the arrest and deportation of women in prostitution for
violating conditions of stay. ISS told us police often asked
questions such as "If you were not a (willing prostitute/a
sexually abused FDW), why didn,t you run and report your
situation to the police?" (Comment: Such questions are
indicative of a lack of understanding by front-line officials
of the nature of the trafficking problem and lack of a
victim-centered approach to identifying trafficking. End
comment.) The NGOs surmised that in order for the sex
establishments with TIP victims to operate, organized crime
triad groups in Hong Kong "must be involved." International
Organization for Migration
Director Gloria Ko observed that there was little follow-up
on reports of FDW abuses. NGOs noted that the HKG only
assisted in funding for the protection and care of victims if
the victims were cooperating witnesses in an ongoing trial,
in which case the victims were handled "like gold." TIP
victims in NGO care who needed medical care might not receive
it, unless they were serving as witnesses in a case, in which
case they were guaranteed care.

12. (SBU) When Ambassador CdeBaca subsequently raised these
issues with senior Hong Kong officials, they insisted FDWs
were entitled to the lower resident medical fees during the
two-week period because they still had their Hong Kong
identification card. Once the two weeks expired, however,
FDWs had to pay the higher non-resident fees even if they
were pursuing legal action against their previous employer.
Ambassador CdeBaca highlighted the importance of allowing
victims time after escaping an abusive environment to
overcome their trauma and make rational decisions about the
next course of action. He pointed to the "reflection period"
model many European countries have adopted. Victims could
remain in the destination country for either 60 or 90 days to
reflect on their situation, and at the end of this period,
they had to decide whether to pursue legal action. This
arrangement prevented potential TIP victims from being
handled as immigration cases and/or forced to make decisions
when they weren't ready. (Note: Ambassador CdeBaca told HKG
officials he would share with them information on the
European Union model and other best practices. Post has
received the information and will pass to the HKG. End Note)

HONG KONG 00002340 004 OF 005

Meeting with Indonesian Consul General

13. (SBU) Indonesian Consul General Ferry Adamhar briefed
Ambassador CdeBaca on the Indonesian FDW situation in Hong
Kong. CG Adamhar stressed that the Consulate's role in
helping the 131,000 Indonesian FDWs in Hong Kong was limited.
However, he highlighted the Consulate's three-tier program
including: (1) orientation upon arrival in Hong Kong to
provide a soft landing, (2) a "during stay program," and (3)
an exit program to help FDWs readjust to life back in
Indonesia. Adamhar said FDWs receive 5-6 months of training
in Indonesia before moving to Hong Kong, including language
training. He cited Indonesian FDWs' ability to converse and
understand basic Cantonese as a principal reason why the
number of Indonesian FDWs had overtaken Filipinas in Hong
Kong. Adamhar extended an invitation to Ambassador CdeBaca to
visit the FDW training facilities in Surabaya. The Consulate
had also invited journalists and NGOs to visit these
facilities, Adamhar reported. He explained that the Consulate
endorsed every visa issuance by the Hong Kong government in
order to keep track of each FDW in Hong Kong. This
"increased the integrity of the process," he stressed.

14. (SBU) In response to Ambassador CdeBaca's question about
cases of abuse, Adamhar replied that it was "very rare" for
FDWs to approach the Consulate for help. However, he cited a
recent case where a judge punished an employer for abusing
his FDW. He characterized this as "excellent" work by the
Hong Kong government, and noted that this would not have
happened in other destination countries.

15. (SBU) Ambassador CdeBaca noted that Indonesia was
upgraded to Tier 2 in 2007, a success for the GOI,s efforts
on TIP. The U.S., however, was still concerned about labor
brokers and complaints from destination countries about the
high debts Indonesian FDWs had to incur, as well as the use
of loan sharks and other creditors. He said that the U.S.
was now doing more joint law enforcement work with source
countries and highlighted a recent joint operation with
Mexico that resulted in simultaneous arrests. The Ambassador
suggested that opportunities for joint law enforcement with
Hong Kong might exist, not just on the regulatory side
(licenses) but also in joint police investigations. Adamhar
agreed, but noted that Indonesian law required an MOU or some
provision that protected Indonesian workers. Indonesia had
no such MOU with Hong Kong but was satisfied with Hong
Kong,s excellent labor protection system, Adamhar stated.
He agreed that joint law enforcement would be a positive
development and had already invited the Hong Kong government
to send officials to Jakarta to see firsthand the situation
there. Finally, on the question of "freedom of contract"
which allowed FDWs to move from one employer to another, the
Indonesian CG explained that, while the Indonesian government
welcomed this, Indonesian law required that FDWs still go
through agents as a way of tracking and managing them.

Philippine FDWs in Hong Kong

16. (SBU) In his meeting with Philippines Vice-Consul for
Assistance to Nationals Val Roque, Ambassador CdeBaca
welcomed the new Philippines Attorney General's swearing-in
statement which highlighted the importance of fighting TIP.
Roque briefed the Ambassador on a recent case the HKG was
prosecuting involving two Filipinas who were trafficked to
Hong Kong via Macau with promises of working in a restaurant
but who were forced into prostitution. The HKG was charging
the perpetrators with TIP for the purposes of prostitution
and breaching conditions of stay, Roque explained. The trial
was set for February. Roque was hopeful the victims would be
cooperative. The HKG was providing HKD 100/day, and NGOs
were providing a full-time social worker for the victims.
Roque said Hong Kong authorities had been professional in
dealing with the case, as in the 2007 case. He noted that
most victims didn't want to cooperate but in the current
case, they were so angry at their relatives who "set them up"
that they decided to go through with the trial. Roque said
victims would be more willing to go through with trafficking
cases if the HKG allowed them to work in Hong Kong while
waiting trial, rather than being held in a shelter. Roque
also noted that the fear of retribution by traffickers
prevented victims from coming forward and testifying.
Ambassador CdeBaca noted research from the Nexus Institute
showed that trafficked women were more likely to assist in
the prosecution of their traffickers and stay for trial if
they could work. The Ambassador noted that in the United
States, a complaint by a trafficking victim was not required

HONG KONG 00002340 005 OF 005

to start a criminal case. Roque responded that victim
statements could be helpful in trial if this were the case in
Hong Kong.

17. (SBU) Turning to FDWs who ended up in shelters because of
termination of employment or labor disputes, Roque described
a complicated and costly process. For example, the
conciliation process took time to schedule, i.e., FDWs had to
wait seven days before they could file a complaint (used to
encourage the parties to settle). The Consulate would try to
schedule a conciliation meeting within two weeks but it could
take a month. However, after termination, FDWs were required
to leave Hong Kong after 14 days, which meant they had to
apply for an extension of their visas at their own cost. The
High Court had rejected prior challenges to the "two-week
rule," said Roque. He suggested one of the reasons the Hong
Kong government sustained this policy was to make FDWs
ineligible for permanent residency, since they had to leave
Hong Kong after each two-year contract in order to renew the
contract or change employers.

18. (SBU) Roque appealed to Ambassador CdeBaca to help
minimize the number of Philippine women who came to Hong Kong
during navy ship visits. He asked if there was some way for
the U.S. to "minimize trafficking" by certifying certain bars
that service men could go to in Wanchai. He said many
Philippine women come over on their own with no counseling
and little money. Ambassador CdeBaca replied that programs
had been introduced in Korea to deal with this and agreed
that we should look at safeguards for our military

19. G/TIP and EAP/RSP cleared this cable.

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