US upgrades Lesotho’s human trafficking ranking

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. . . but demands more efforts to combat the scourge

Staff Reporters

THE United States (US) government has upgraded Lesotho to Tier 2 on its human trafficking index report for 2022.

This in recognition of “significant efforts” by the government to combat trafficking in the past year. Nonetheless, the US said Lesotho still had not done enough to address long-standing human trafficking concerns.

It said although Lesotho had made progress towards tackling trafficking in the past year, it still failed to meet “minimum standards in several key areas”. Some of the outstanding areas include the failure to prosecute government officials implicated in the trafficking of victims, the US said. In instances where prosecutions had begun, Lesotho had however, failed to conclude the trials, the US added.

While it is not yet uhuru for Lesotho, the upgrade to Tier 2 is nevertheless a welcome development. Previously the country had been on Tier 2 Watch List and before that it had been on Tier 3- the lowest ranking. Ordinarily countries in Tier 3 automatically lose US developments assistance and cannot benefit from multi-million-dollar programmes like the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). Those on the Tier 2 Watchlist are still required to increase their efforts to deal with human trafficking for them to be eligible for various forms of US development assistance. Even though Lesotho was reselected for Second Compact under the MCC in 2017, a definite agreement on the size of the compact and funding had remained elusive until March this year when the US had satisfied itself that there had been progress that could lead to an upgrade to Tier 2.

The upgrading of Lesotho’s ranking is one of the highlights of the US’ Trafficking in Persons 2022 Report released this week in Washington DC by US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken.

United States Ambassador to Lesotho, Maria Brewer, presented a copy of the report to Home Affairs Minister, Motlalentoa Letsosa, on Monday.

In a subsequent statement, the US embassy said, “The government of the Kingdom of Lesotho does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.

“The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity. Therefore, Lesotho was upgraded to Tier 2.”

According to the trafficking report, Lesotho had done well to identify more trafficking victims and increase investigations and prosecutions of offenders.

“The government launched its national action plan and allocated funding for implementation; finalised and implemented guidelines for victim identification and referral to care (institutions) and increased its anti-trafficking training and awareness-raising efforts for law enforcement, diplomats and the public.

“The amended Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act criminalised labour trafficking and sex trafficking. The law prescribed penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for the trafficking of adults and up to life imprisonment for the trafficking of children. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.

“The government initiated 10 investigations into potential human trafficking — five for labour trafficking and five for unspecified exploitation — and continued three investigations from previous reporting periods, compared with four investigations initiated during the previous reporting period. The government prosecuted 16 trafficking cases, compared with four previously, and convicted one trafficker, which is the same as the previous reporting period. Of the 16 prosecutions, six cases involved forced labour, and 10 cases involved sex trafficking. The government convicted and sentenced one trafficker to 10 years in prison and a fine for forced labour. However, the sentence was suspended on the condition that the trafficker return to their home country within two months of release,” the report states.

However, the US says this is still not enough. Lesotho would have to do more to be upgraded to Tier I which is reserved for countries that have fully met the requirements for the elimination of human trafficking.

“The (Lesotho) government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas,” the US report states.

“Several investigations and prosecutions from the previous reporting period, including cases of alleged official complicity, were still pending. The government did not amend existing laws that created jurisdictional issues that prevent magistrate courts from issuing the maximum penalty for trafficking crimes. The government continued to rely on one non-governmental organisation (NGO) to provide all services to trafficking victims in the country with nascent government funding, and shelter options remained limited.

“Due to a shortage of magistrates and a large backlog of criminal cases, only three magistrates were assigned to hear trafficking cases. However, 10 magistrates received training during the reporting period to hear trafficking cases in their respective jurisdictions.

“The Lesotho Mounted Police Service’s (LMPS) Anti-Trafficking and Migrant Control (ATMC) Unit was responsible for all trafficking-related investigations. The ATMC Unit added four new specialised trafficking-in persons focal points, comprised of three to four investigators, in Butha-Buthe, Leribe, Mafeteng, and Mohale’s Hoek, in addition to one already established in Maseru. The ATMC focal points received some logistical and administrative support from LMPS. However, they lacked a dedicated budget. Members of each focal point received basic training on trafficking in persons but lacked specialised training on victim identification, trauma-informed interviewing and investigating human trafficking,” the report states.

The upgrading of Lesotho’s ranking has been welcomed by Dr Majoro’s office.

This week, the Office of the Prime Minister tweeted, “the US upgraded Lesotho from the Tier 2 Watchlist to a full Tier 2.

“In 2020 the US downgraded Lesotho to Tier 3—an unfortunate grading that undermines cooperation. Still we need to do more to eliminating human trafficking and smuggling”.

The US government defines human trafficking as “modern-day slavery” which involves the movement of persons locally and beyond a country’s borders against their will to get them into forced labour, involuntary servitude and debt bondage.

Due to the previous Thomas Thabane administration’s failure to address human trafficking concerns, Lesotho was in 2020 placed in Tier 3—the lowest tier in the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report.

This meant that Lesotho could not qualify for various forms of US development assistance.

To its credit, the Moeketsi Majoro-led government, which took over the reins in May 2020, worked hard to get Lesotho off Tier 3.

Under the capable stewardship of Home Affairs Minister Motlalentoa Letsosa, the government began implementing the US recommendations for “increased efforts to investigate, prosecute and convict traffickers through independent and fair trials including officials complicit in trafficking in persons”.

To that end, Mr Letsosa said cabinet had directed the police to establish regional focal points for the coordination of anti-trafficking activities “while the long-term strategic objective is to establish fully fledged anti-trafficking units, with sufficient resources at district level”.

He also said several cases were referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Hlalefang Motinyane, for prosecution in 2021. Most of these cases have not been finalised to date.

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