Strengthening criminal justice responses to human trafficking and migrant smuggling 

Vientiane, Lao PDR - 27 September 2018 - An important initiative under the Global Action to Prevent and Address Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants ( GLO.ACT) in Lao PDR was launched the week of 17 September 2018. Workshops were held in support of the GLO.ACT work plan to assist in building capacity of lawyers on Trafficking in Persons (TIP) and the Smuggling of Migrants (SOM), with the specific objective of helping Lao PDR to strengthen their criminal justice response to human trafficking and migrant smuggling.

Beginning with a half-day consultation meeting in Vientiane Capital on 17 September 2018, the week began with the discussion and exchange of ideas among the relevant sectors, to foster more effective collaboration and coordination in criminal proceedings and the criminal justice system, specifically focusing on the role of lawyers in the prosecution of human trafficking. In cooperation with the Asia Foundation and facilitated by the Legal Development Partnership (LDP) and UNODC, the consultation raised the current challenges and generated discussions on the importance of coordination and cooperation, both among and between, government entities, lawyers, and local NGOs, to help strengthen access to justice and human trafficking proceedings. Reference documents for the discussion included the Law of Lawyers and latest Decree on Legal Aid.

Following the consultation meeting, a 3-day training on prosecuting TIP and SOM cases was held from 19 to 21 September 2018 in Vientiane. The intent of the workshop was to provide capacity building training for those working directly in the field of protection and justice, to improve their understanding of human trafficking and cross-border migration. Specifically, the workshop's objectives were:

  • To provide front line workers with an understanding of human trafficking and irregular migration across borders;
  • To create the capacity to provide services and assistance in legal, cases based on the interests of victims in the justice system; 
  • To improve the capacity and understanding about volunteer legal assistance (pro-bono) for victims of TIP and SOM; 
  • To promote the importance of the relevant entities role in working together and coordinating mechanisms to assist and protect victims.

Beginning with a general overview of TIP and SOM, the workshop highlighted the different applicable national, regional, and international instruments, and the importance of distinguishing between the two phenomena. The Foundation for Human Rights and Development (HRDF), Thailand discussed the challenges of TIP and SOM legal cases and explored the available legal assistance mechanisms. By sharing their experiences and analysing case law, participants furthered their comprehension of TIP and SOM victim identification and existing support mechanisms. A medical doctor shared that the Friendship Hospital in Vientiane now has the resources to verify the age of survivors - a crucial component to support the legal process.

With a long history of both regular and irregular migration to neighboring countries, especially Thailand, Lao PDR is primarily a country of origin for TIP and SOM. With an irregular migrant status, Lao migrants' face an increased risk of exploitation, trafficking, and forced labour by their employers and nationals of other countries. Workshop participants became more familiar with these challenges when Mr. Joy, a survivor of exploitation, shared his experiences.

A Lao citizen, Mr. Joy travelled to Southern Thailand in search of better employment opportunities, securing a job on a fishing boat in Pattani. After working for several years on the boat, a friend recommended a similar position with better pay in Penang, Malaysia. However, upon his arrival in Malaysia, Mr. Joy's passport was confiscated by his new employer and he quickly discovered his salary would not increase. As the only Laotian among his new crew mates, Mr. Joy faced also consistent discrimination and abuse. After enduring nine months of violence from the crew, the threats on Mr. Joy's life became more serious and he knew he had to flee to survive. After reclaiming his passport, Mr. Joy reached the Penang airport, only to be detained after assaulting a police officer for not allowing him to board a plane back to Laos. With no one to provide him with assistance, Mr. Joy was imprisoned for six months when an American couple visiting Penang prisoners learned of his situation, and graciously posted his bail and helped him return to Laos. Today, Mr. Joy is earning a living by working in a bike shop in central Vientiane.  

Hearing stories from survivors like Mr. Joy exemplify the lived experiences of victims and are crucial for any strategy to combat TIP and SOM. After listening and learning from his account, participants deepened their understanding of the real challenges TIP victims and smuggled migrants face.

Following the workshop's conclusion, participant feedback suggested not only an increased understanding of TIP and SOM, but also an improved awareness of various entities role in ensuring practical referral mechanisms exist for victims and vulnerable migrants to access to justice and legal aid. Overall, participant responses suggested the workshop was successful in equipping front line workers and lawyers with the tools required to provide improved support to TIP victims and smuggled migrants in their communities.

The Global Action to Prevent and Address Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants (GLO.ACT) is a four-year (2015-2019), €11 million joint initiative by the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The project is being implemented in partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). GLO.ACT aims to provide assistance to governmental authorities and civil society organizations across 13 strategically selected countries: Belarus, Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Kyrgyz Republic, Lao PDR, Mali, Morocco, Nepal, Niger, Pakistan, South Africa, Ukraine. GLO.ACT works with the 13 countries to plan and implement strategic national counter-trafficking and counter-smuggling efforts through a prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnerships approach. It supports the development of more effective responses to trafficking and smuggling, including providing assistance to victims of trafficking and vulnerable migrants through the strengthening of identification, referral, and direct support mechanisms.

More information about GLO.ACT is available  here.

For more information, please contact:

Ms. Siliphaithoun Xayamoungkhvoun

GLO.ACT National Project Officer

Email: siliphaithoun.xayamoungkhoun@un.org

Website: www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/glo-act/

Email: glo.act@un.org

Twitter: @glo_act