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US report implicates Uganda govt officials in human trafficking

The US government – in a new report – has implicated the Ugandan government in a human trafficking activity in Middle East (FILE PHOTO)

US – A report by the US government has implicated Uganda government officials in trafficking of persons from Uganda to different parts of the world, especially Middle East, accused the state of not doing enough to stop the practice.

Titled ‘Trafficking in Persons, 2018’ and launched in US by Secretary of State Mr Michael Pompeo last week, the report indicates that whereas the Uganda government is making significant efforts towards elimination of human trafficking, it did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.

“Insufficient funding for victim protection hindered government efforts. The government did not employ systematic procedures to refer or assist victims, and availability of victim services was inconsistent. The government has not institutionalized anti-trafficking training among law enforcement and frontline officials and there are still reports of misclassification of cases and poor investigations. The government did not report investigating allegations of corruption impeding government oversight of labor recruitment agencies,” the report, which covers 2017 cases, reads in part.

It adds that whereas several cases of human trafficking by Uganda government officials were reported by several media houses and NGOs, nothing was done to bring the culprits to book.

“The media continued to report that some of the labor recruitment companies suspected of involvement in trafficking were associated with, or partially owned by, high-level officials, which impeded law enforcement agencies’ ability to investigate their operations,” the report says.

“An NGO continued to report that some complicit immigration officers at border crossings facilitated passage of trafficking victims. The government did not report progress on or efforts to complete the prosecution of a case from 2014 involving the Commissioner from the Ministry of Finance, charged with child trafficking,” the report adds.

The report cited the November 2015 case when the Department of State asked the Ugandan government to waive immunity to allow the prosecution of a Ugandan diplomat and his spouse for labor trafficking and related offenses; the couple has since departed the United States.

“The government did not report taking any action during the reporting period to hold the diplomat and his spouse accountable. There were allegations that officials from the office of the prime minister were complicit in several illegal activities related to the refugee settlements, including corruption, sexual exploitation and abuse, and facilitating the movement of vulnerable populations from settlements in Uganda to South Sudan,” the report adds.

It also said the government did not enact the implementing regulations for the 2009 anti-trafficking act or allocate funding for the implementation of its victim protection provisions.

The government also did not adequately assist Ugandan citizen victims identified abroad, the report says. It generally provided replacement travel documents to facilitate the repatriation of its citizens, while NGOs provided funding for return travel.

The report states that in 2017, the government reported identifying at least 276 victims in 2017, as compared with 270 in 2016. Of the 276 trafficking victims, 82 children and 134 adults were victims of forced labor, and two children and 38 adults were victims of sex trafficking.

According to the report, the government also identified four adults who were victims of both sex trafficking and forced labor and 16 children who were transnational victims of forced armed conflict. Of the identified victims, 197 were transnational, the majority of all victims were women, and all of the internal victims were children, the majority of whom were Karamojong.

“The government reported removing nearly all internal child trafficking victims from situations of exploitation, but did not report providing the children with assistance afterward. The government reported repatriating 148 victims; while approximately 100 Ugandan victims remained in trafficking situations abroad; however, these numbers included 52 victims that may not have been trafficking victims,” the report says.

Nevertheless, the report commends Uganda government for demonstrating increasing efforts by investigating, prosecuting, and achieving convictions in more cases than in 2016, identifying and repatriating more trafficking victims, and increasing law enforcement training. The report says government also lifted the travel ban on domestic workers abroad for two countries and launched an online External Employment Management System where citizens could apply for pre-vetted overseas employment opportunities through licensed companies. The government strengthened migrant worker protections abroad by negotiating with a foreign government to provide cellular phones, which include a recently launched application for the tracking and monitoring of workers. The government also increased law enforcement training.

In the recommendations, the report urges Uganda to develop a formal mechanism to systematically refer trafficking victims to appropriate care and expand protective services for victims through partnerships with NGOs, including by allocating resources; increase efforts to investigate allegations of official complicity in trafficking crimes and prosecute and convict complicit officials.

It also calls for increased training for Ugandan embassies’ staff on assisting trafficking victims abroad, including victim identification, providing temporary shelter, and facilitating the repatriation of victims; fully implement the protection and prevention provisions of the 2009 anti-trafficking act. It also calls for replacing the partial suspension of recruitment agencies sending migrant workers abroad for domestic work with consistently enforced regulations and oversight of recruitment companies, including by adopting proposed amendments to the anti-trafficking act that would increase oversight of employment contracts and extend criminal liability for trafficking offenses to labor recruiters; increase bilateral negotiations with destination country governments on migrant worker rights, including the release and repatriation of Ugandan migrant workers exploited by employers abroad; use existing laws to proactively investigate and punish labor recruiters who fraudulently recruit Ugandans and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

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