Monrovia – United States Ambassador to Liberia, Michael McCarthy has welcomed the Government of Liberia for passing and signing into law the “Revised Trafficking in Persons Act of 2021” but cautioned if the law is not enforced, it will be of no use.
Addressing a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia on Tuesday, Ambassador McCarthy said the new law is important because Liberia was downgraded to “Tier 2 Watchlist” in the State Department Trafficking in Person (TIP) 2021 report.
Tier 2 countries are countries whose governments do not fully comply with the US Government’s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.
However, Mr. McCarthy noted that countries in this category maybe automatically downgraded to Tier 3 if they do not show progress.
“U.S. foreign assistance to Tier 3 countries is significantly restricted, and that is the last thing we want to happen here,” he said.
Speaking of the TIP Report on Liberia, he said: “As that report makes clear, updating Liberia’s TIP framework is just one of nearly a dozen prioritized recommendations. As important as this Legislative action was, it will not by itself ensure that Liberia is moved from the watchlist.”
Outlining reasons for Liberia downgrade to Tier 2, the State Department, in the TIP report released in July 2021 said Liberia did not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.
These efforts included opening a new shelter for child trafficking victims, initiating an investigation into a high-profile labor trafficking case in cooperation with foreign governments, and allocating funding to NGOs to conduct awareness raising campaigns.
However, it said the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity.
It reported that the government identified fewer victims, initiated fewer investigations, prosecuted fewer defendants, and did not convict any traffickers.
The report indicated that law enforcement officials continued to lack adequate resources and understanding of trafficking to effectively investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes. “Shelter services for victims remained insufficient, and the government did not support NGOs providing care to victims. Therefore, Liberia was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List,” the State Department declared.
However, in its recommendations, it called for increased efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases, including internal trafficking cases and officials accused of complicity; train law enforcement and judicial officials on identifying, investigating, and prosecuting trafficking cases under the 2005 anti-trafficking law; among others.
Ambassador McCarthy made a repeated call on the government to increase investigations and prosecutions of trafficking cases.
He said “If this is done well, it will naturally lead to more convictions. Traffickers must face justice, the laws must be enforced, and victims must have access to services.”
He disclosed that reporting for the 2022 TIP report is ongoing now, and the U.S. Government is closely following cases that are making their way through the justice system. “If at the end of all of these cases there are no convictions, then what is the new law?”, he asked rhetorically.
‘Commitment of Support’
He, then pledged that as long as the Liberian government is making an effort to combat the scourge of human trafficking and child labor, the United States will continue to support those efforts. Currently, he said the U.S. is providing technical assistance – such as embedded advisors, training, and advice – and continued active participation in the Ministry of Labor’s national Anti-Human Trafficking Taskforce.”
The Ambassador said since 2005, the United States has committed more than US$149.5 million to support civilian security and justice sector programs. These programs, he noted, increase the capacity of Liberia’s civilian security agencies and the Ministry of Justice to maintain peace and stability in Liberia and to become a more effective partner with the United States and other West African countries.