Chhimi Dema  

Since 2020 Bhutan was ranked on Tier 2 Watch List in the Trafficking in Persons Report. This means that the country is not fully compliant but making significant efforts to be compliant to eliminate the severe forms, nature and scope of trafficking.

The ranking also risks the country losing loans or aid from multinational financial institutions, according to Home Minister Ugyen Dorji who introduced the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC) to the members of the National Council (NC) on November 14.

Lyonpo Ugyen Dorji also introduced the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children (TIP).

UNTOC is considered the main international instrument in the fight against transnational organised crime.

The convention is supplemented by three protocols which target specific areas and manifestations of organised crime: the Protocol to Prevent; Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons; Especially Women and Children; the Protocol against Smuggling of Migrants by, Sea and Air; and the Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components and Ammunition.

Lyonpo Ugyen Dorji said that if the country becomes a member of the UNTOC it will help the country’s reputation and sovereignty.

A total of 190 countries signed the UNTOC and nine UN member states are not a party to the convention including Bhutan.

Lyonpo Ugyen Dorji said that the ratification was tabled as the country falls under the Tier 2 Watch List in the Trafficking in Persons Report ranked by the US Secretary of State.

The US State Department, according to the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, publish an annual report to rank various countries on their anti-trafficking policies and efforts to eradicate the problem.

Once reviewed, the country is given a ranking: Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List, and Tier 3.

Tier 1 ranking is given to countries for fully complying with the minimum standards for the elimination of severe forms of trafficking in persons. Tier 2 is for not fully complying, but making “significant efforts” to comply with the minimum standards.

Tier 2 Watch List as determined by the US Secretary of State is given to countries that require special scrutiny during the following year, and Tier 3 for not fully complying and not making “significant efforts” to comply with the minimum standards.

Lyonpo Ugyen Dorji said, “As Bhutan is on the Tier 2 Watch List, there is a risk of the rank dropping to Tier 3. The country could face difficulties in acquiring loans from multinational banks which the US could have authority over.”

UNTOC has 41 articles and the TIP Protocol has 20 articles.

From the 41 articles of the convention, Lyonpo Ugyen Dorji said that the government has reservations about articles 16.5 A and 35.4.

Article 16.5 A of the UNTOC is on whether the country would take this convention as a legal basis for extradition and Article 35.3 is on whether or not any dispute between the nations would refer International Court of Justice or not for settlement.

Chairperson of the social and cultural affairs committee of NC, Mongar Member of Parliament Sonam Pelzom, said that the convention will ensure the safety of Bhutanese working abroad.

MP Sonam Pelzom said that 15,904 Bhutanese are living in 88 countries today.

As of December 2021, about 12,000 people are in Australia and 7,388 people are working in the Middle East through the overseas employment programme.

MP Sonam Pelzom questioned the Home Minister on why the convention ratification comes before amending the nine laws as required by the convention.

Lyonpo Ugyen Dorji said that there were two options – to ratify the convention first and then amend the other nine laws or to amend the laws first and then ratify the convention.

He said that either would not make any difference. “A reason for choosing to ratify the convention first was considering the country’s rank on the US States Department’s TIP report.”

The House will convene the deliberations on ratifying both the UNTOC and TIP Protocol in the coming sessions.