HK says US human trafficking findings 'groundless'

Local | 26 Jun 2020 4:40 pm

The Hong Kong government has dismissed the findings of a US State Department report into human trafficking, which was critical of Hong Kong's efforts to combat the problem over the past year, saying they were made on a "sloppy and prejudiced basis".

In the latest US State Department Trafficking in Persons reports published on Friday, Hong Kong was downgraded to the "Tier 2 Watch List", meaning the SAR fails to meet the US' minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but was making significant efforts to do so.

Hong Kong dropped down into the Tier 2 Watch List because it did not demonstrate increasing efforts over the past year to combat the problem.

The report said observers pointed out that screening mechanisms had been ineffectively implemented, and a lack of understanding about trafficking resulted in few victims being identified.

The SAR government strongly objected to the findings – saying they were based on a "sloppy and prejudiced basis". It called them "groundless", with analyses appearing to be merely based on hearsay.

Only three victims were identified in the more than 7,500 initial trafficking victim screenings that were conducted last year.

The government said the reason why few victims had been identified – even though there have been "proactive and intensified" screening efforts – was because trafficking in persons had never been a prevalent problem in the city.

Human rights lawyer Patricia Ho – the founder of the Hong Kong Dignity Institute, which defends and advances the rights of human trafficking victims and minority groups in the city – said it's difficult to interpret the government's position, as human trafficking is not yet a criminal offense in Hong Kong.

Ho was among 10 "heroes" recognised in the US State Department report – the first time someone from Hong Kong received the accolade – and was lauded for tirelessly fighting human trafficking and protecting victims.

She said the constant denial from the government that human trafficking was a problem in the SAR was very disappointing.

"There are multiple reports issued in Hong Kong over the last few years that say that human trafficking and forced labour is a huge problem in many different fields, whether sex trafficking or labour trafficking, whether in Hong Kong private homes, or construction sites or in the F&B industry," she said.

"It’s a huge issue, and so if they keep on saying that they haven’t identified anything it really begs more questions into where that statement comes from."

Among the recommendations of the Trafficking in Persons report was for Hong Kong to enact a comprehensive anti-trafficking law. However, the government said this recommendation is "most unreasonable and inconceivable", adding that there is a well-established legal framework, with over 50 legal provisions to guard against trafficking offences that together form a comprehensive package of safeguards.

Ho said specific legislation is absolutely needed, and the recent landmark human trafficking case of ZN – a Pakistani man who was trafficked to Hong Kong, beaten and treated as a slave – illustrates the point.

ZN lost his Court of Final Appeal bid to compel the SAR government to make forced labour a specific criminal offence in January.

"Mr ZN in the centre of that whole judicial review had been assisting the authorities to investigate the people who trafficked him to Hong Kong and who ill-treated him for four years. Those investigations have been going on for a few years now, and to date, no body has been arrested," Ho said.

"But meanwhile, the court has actually confirmed that he is a victim of trafficking, so this really begs the question of if they say they have all of these offences, then why are none of them being used to prosecute traffickers."

The government said that ignoring Hong Kong's efforts solely because of this seriously calls into question the credibility and objectivity of the report.

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