Phub Dem | Paro
Most of the alleged human trafficking cases in the country were either altered or dropped according to an official from the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
The cases altered for lack of evidence, categorised as unintended trafficking, domestic violence, and mostly claiming that the practice has consent, UNODC Programme Coordinator, Tandin Wangmo said.
Although human trafficking cases are noticeable in Bhutan, due to lack of awareness among relevant agencies such as police, Office of Attorney General, Civil Servant Organisations and even the Media, the awareness of human trafficking remained low.
The situation of trafficking in the country is made worse by the lack of authentic information and data.
Tandin Wangmo said that the Penal Code Amendment Act of Bhutan 2011 had further made the trial complicated. “How do we define illegal purposes? Anyone can manipulate the meaning. Even if the case is trafficking, it is dropped due to a lack of distinction and awareness,” she said.
The amended Penal Code 2011 states, “A defendant shall be guilty of the offence of trafficking a person if the defendant recruits, transports, sells or buys harbors or receives a person through the use of threat or force or deception within, into or outside of Bhutan for any illegal purpose”.
Tandin Wangmo said that the authorities concerned had requested the amendment of the section by changing illegal purpose to exploitation however the National Assembly had added illegal purpose or exploitation.
The National Council will review the Code, which is being amended, in the winter session. She said that if the section 154 gets amended the basis of human trafficking would be clear.
Global TIP Report
The latest Global Trafficking in Person Report, 2019 stated that Bhutan does not meet minimum anti-trafficking standards and is not making an effort to do so.
The report states that the government did not report convicting any traffickers or identified any victims for three consecutive years, although it was reported that limited efforts were made to protect previously identified trafficking victims.
It further states that Bhutan did not complete the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for a multi-sectoral response to address trafficking in persons during the reporting period for four consecutive years. “The government continued one potential trafficking prosecution, two potential trafficking investigations, and initiated one potential trafficking investigation,” the report states.
Tandin Wangmo said that Bhutan began working on SOP since 2015 and took four years to make it into a legalised document. “Because of the SOP, Bhutan’s ranking showed no improvement.”
The SOP is expected to be launched next week in Haa. The document is also expected to provide clarity on rules and regulations of all relevant agencies for immediate referral protocol.
The TIP report highlighted the government’s law not criminalising all forms of trafficking which led to the dismissal of at least one suspected trafficking case.
The report recommended that the government should amend the Penal Code of Bhutan, Sections 154 and 227, and Section 224 of the Child Care and Protection Act to bring the definition of human trafficking in line with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
It has asked the authorities concerned to finalise and disseminate SOPs for proactive victim identification and referral to services, and train officials on their use, vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking cases and train officials on implementation of anti-trafficking laws, victim identification and victim referral procedures.
The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime is the main international instrument in the fight against transnational organised crime.
Under convention, member countries become the signatory of Palermo Protocol because the convention enhances close international cooperation in order to tackle transnational trafficking in persons cases. The member states would be able to provide mutual legal assistance and law enforcement cooperation.
Bhutan is not yet a signatory to the Palermo Protocol.
Tandin Wangmo said that if Bhutan became a signatory to the convection, the trafficking happening with the Bhutanese outside Bhutan would be easily addressed. As of today, media only reported one internal trafficking in person story.
UNODC is conducting a workshop on trafficking in persons for the Bhutanese journalists that began yesterday.
The two-day programme is designed to educate journalists on the concept and distinction of human trafficking, how to respond and identify trafficking in person and how media should play its critical role in creating awareness.