BAHRAIN has created history by becoming the only Gulf – and Arab – country to achieve the highest ranking for its anti-human trafficking efforts, according to a key report.
The latest US State Department report on Trafficking in Persons (TIP) 2018, released by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in Washington last night, said Bahrain had investigated 31 alleged human trafficking cases and sentenced seven sex traffickers last year.
This has resulted in Bahrain being given the highest rating among Tier 1 countries that includes the US, the UK, Germany, France and Canada, among others.
Manama has constantly moved up in the annual assessment, from being in Tier 3 in 2011 to maintaining a Tier 2 rating in the past three years.
The report categorises countries into four sections as mandated by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) which is the American law against human trafficking. Tier 1 nations fully meet TVPA standards, while nations on the Tier 2 and Tier 2 Watchlist do not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, though making significant efforts to do so.
Countries not complying with the minimum standards are placed in Tier 3 and subjected to certain US sanctions.
Gulf countries in Tier 2 are the UAE, Oman and Qatar, while Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are on the Tier 2 Watchlist.
The report is compiled by many organisations, individuals and US embassies and consulates around the world and covers the period between April and March the following year.
“Bahrain fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking,” said the report.
It said the government made significant achievements during the period under review because of which it was upgraded to Tier 1.
“These achievements included the government’s first conviction of a Bahraini national for forced labour and first conviction of a complicit government official.”
The report also stated that the Interior Ministry investigated 31potential trafficking cases – “all of which involved sexual exploitation of adult females, compared to 29 investigations during the previous reporting period.
“Of the 31 investigations, officials referred 18 for prosecution, compared to 25 referred the prior year.
“One sex trafficking prosecution with two defendants remained ongoing from the previous year.”
It was also noted that Bahrain sentenced seven sex traffickers from Bahrain, Russia and Bangladesh to between five and 10 years in jail plus fines between BD2,000 and BD5,000, while in 2016 the government convicted and similarly sentenced three traffickers.
“For the first time, officials convicted a Bahraini national of forced labour involving a Filipina domestic worker, from a case initially investigated during the previous reporting period.”
The report mentioned a High Criminal Court case in September last year in which a police officer was sentenced to five years in jail under the anti-human trafficking law, fined BD2,000 for accepting bribes from traffickers and using his position to preclude any investigations of the sex trafficking ring – “the first known case of a government official being held criminally accountable for complicity in a trafficking crime”.
“The government also arrested and initiated prosecution of a former police officer who used his position and connections with hotels and residential buildings to collude with a Colombian woman to lure women to Bahrain through social media under false pretences of high salaries in legitimate jobs over a five-year timeframe.”
The report said Bahrain typically treated cases of unpaid or withheld wages, passport retention and alleged abuses as labour law violations rather than routinely investigated for trafficking crimes.
“The Public Prosecutor received referrals from the Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) of four recruitment agencies allegedly involved in forced labour.”
In addition, the report said Bahrain last year shut down three recruitment agencies and revoked their licences for contravening labour law. Seventeen other agency licences were cancelled for non-compliance with LMRA regulations.
Bahrain’s efforts to combat human trafficking by imposing tough penalties also won praise in the report, which stated that penalties ranged from three to 15 years imprisonment, a fine of between BD2,000 and BD10,000 and the cost of repatriating the victim(s).
“Bahraini officials provided full assistance to trafficking victims regardless of their willingness to participate in investigations and court proceedings of their traffickers.”
The report mentioned LMRA-led efforts to reform the sponsorship system by introducing a programme to allow some undocumented workers to self-sponsor (flexi work permit) and launching standardised tripartite labour contracts for domestic workers.
“Although the government strengthened protections for domestic workers, cultural norms regarding privacy within Bahraini households and limited access to labour inspectors to access domestic worksites hampered implementation of existing laws and institutional reforms in some cases.”
It explained that LMRA’s enforcement and inspection department employed 70 inspectors who are responsible for worksite checks.
The government did not report how many “third country nationals” it had repatriated during the reporting period. However, it raised serious concern about migrant workers afraid to contact police to report abuse due to being a “free visa” holder.
It also stated that as reported over the past five years, Bahrain is a destination country for men and women subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking.
The greatest influx of workers from Bangladesh represented the majority of undocumented workers among the vulnerable group, along with domestic workers from African countries, said the report.
It also highlighted that nationals of countries without diplomatic presence in Bahrain were particularly vulnerable to trafficking, and underscored the problem of unlicensed recruiters in Bahrain who paired workers with employers in Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, the report has listed Iran as among the countries that recruited and used child soldiers. Iran, along with Syria and Yemen, is among the 2018 Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 signatories that will face US sanctions from October.