Maldivian judges have pledged their support to end human trafficking, agreeing to hold awareness sessions with contractors and use a special logo on all construction bid invitations by the judiciary.
The pledge was signed by the judges of the Supreme Court, appellate and lower courts and senior magistrates at a colloquium organized by International Organization for Migration.
Recognising human trafficking as a “crime that undermines human dignity and human rights,” and one that “opens pathways to many more offences that have grave consequences for society,” judges vowed to “work towards the direction of eradicating human trafficking in the Maldives through cooperation and collaboration with all stakeholders in the state.”
The US state department has placed the Maldives back on its watch list for human trafficking this year, expressing concern over a lack of prosecution of offenders.
Some 200,000 documented and undocumented immigrants live in Maldives and many are subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking, the report said. Only one individual has been convicted of human-trafficking so far.
The Maldives requires increased efforts to address prosecution of offenders and protection of victims, the IOM has said.
Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed said the judiciary was fully committed to “eradicating” human trafficking.
“We need to do more to understand the true condition in relation to offences such as sex trafficking, fraudulent recruiting, withholding of identity and travel documents and non-payment of wages,” he said.
The judiciary will pursue a policy of capacity building to tackle the crime, and needs to adopt a victim-centric approach and opt for restorative justice, he said. He identified difficulties in securing translators for victims and witnesses as as challenge for the judiciary.
Conviction of offenders is only possible “when right issues are taken and presented to the court with necessary evidence,” he said, adding that law enforcement bodies needed more training to detect, investigate and prosecute human trafficking crimes.
Minister of Legal Affairs Azima Shakoor, speaking at the IOM colloquium, said the judiciary is forced to compete with nations that have had hundreds of years of legal history and unlimited resources.
Acknowledging growing international criticism of Maldivian judges, Azima said that no country has a perfect justice system or democracy, Sun Online reported. The judiciary’s commitment to tackling human trafficking would curb the criticism, she reportedly said.
Abdul Bari Yoosuf, acting chief-judge of the criminal court, meanwhile said all judges are committed to protecting the Maldives’ sovereignty.
“I guarantee you that the judges will keep on doing everything in our capacity to protect the sovereignty of Maldives. If the police requests for a warrant we willingly grant them warrants,” he said.
A government report in 2011 revealed human trafficking to be the Maldives second most lucrative industry after tourism – worth an estimated US$123 million a year.
If the Maldives remains on the watch list, it could be subject to non-humanitarian and non-trade sanctions. Migrant workers in the Maldives frequently experience “forced labour, including fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or non-payment of wages, and debt bondage,” the state department has said.
The Maldives has acceded to the ‘Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children,’ a protocol to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime.
Additional reporting by Zaheena Rasheed