…for a collective combat against human trafficking

Younten Tshedup | Gelephu

From a lone case of potential human trafficking documented 12 years ago, the number has reached 11 so far in the country.

Of the 11 cases, two were dropped, because they didn’t qualify as trafficking offence. Seven cases were prosecuted by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), while two are still under investigation.

While the country is beginning to feel the nudges of the organised crime, confusions galore surrounding human trafficking and what constitutes trafficking in persons.

Offences that are initially deemed as trafficking in nature have been dropped or altered to less severe sentencing by the courts.

It was also learnt that most of the alleged human trafficking cases in the country were either altered or dropped for the lack of evidence at various levels of prosecution.

In an effort to bring about a common understanding on human trafficking among the stakeholders involved including the judiciary, works to develop a training module for judges is underway.

The training module, which would comprise of four essential components – introduction to trafficking in persons (TiP), national and international legislation, and current practices and challenges would be deliberated and developed over the next four days in Gelephu.

For this the Department of Law and Order (DLO) with support from UNODC Bhutan has brought together legal experts from across the country for the project.

UNODC’s national project coordinator, Tandin Wangmo, said that the project is focused on a multi-sectorial response to preventing and combating trafficking offences in the country.

Since 2014, officials from the immigration department, OAG, Civil Society Organisations (CSO), foreign and labour ministries and National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) have been trained and informed on the issues concerning human trafficking cases in the country.

Tandin Wangmo said that one of the main activities recommended by the stakeholders was creating awareness among the judges. “This is to bring about a common understanding among all the stakeholders including the judiciary on human trafficking.”

Once a training module is developed, it would be rolled out as a two-day training programme to all the judges across the country.

DLO’s senior legal officer, Kelzang Wangmo, said that human trafficking is an emerging issue and has become a national concern.

She said that as the lead agency in addressing human trafficking, DLO has been carrying out awareness and sensitisation programmes.

However, confusions arise when national laws are not aligned with international laws and interpretations. “Loopholes are there. There are cases where we cannot completely charge it as trafficking but at the same time we cannot also rule trafficking out, completely.”

In such situation she said that DLO in consultation with the stakeholders propose for amendment of laws.

The section 154 of the Penal Code of Bhutan 2011 (amended) states that, “A defendant shall be guilty of the offence of trafficking a person if the defendant recruits, transports, sells or buys harbours or receives a person through the use of threat or force or deception within, into or outside of Bhutan for any illegal purpose”.

Officials said that the section made human trafficking trials more complicated with the mentioning of ‘illegal purpose’. They suggested that the appropriate word would be ‘exploitation’ in place of illegal purpose.

It was learnt that the amendment of the section would be taken up during the upcoming winter parliament session.

Meanwhile, Tandin Wangmo said that some of the regional media has dubbed Bhutan as a source and destination of human trafficking.

“We cannot agree if this is the situation here. At the moment, we are in the process of finalising a comprehensive assessment study on the situation of trafficking in Bhutan.”

Once completed, the study would display the status of human trafficking in the country. The study would be completed by the end of this month.

As of now, she said that the official numbers of human trafficking in the country was small. “But it is not about the numbers, it’s about the situation and as a country with GNH as its national goal, we cannot allow this number to grow.”