New Plans To Tackle Human Trafficking Questioned

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2018-03-21 HKT 20:18

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  • The government has promised to enhance support for victims and devote more resources to identify and investigate cases of human trafficking. Image: Shutterstock

    The government has promised to enhance support for victims and devote more resources to identify and investigate cases of human trafficking. Image: Shutterstock

The government on Wednesday promised a raft of new measures to tackle human trafficking, even as Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung ruled out introducing new legislation to give teeth to the new 'action plan' and played down the problem as being "neither widespread nor prevalent."

A new steering committee headed by Cheung will spearhead the proposals to give victims more channels to seek help and lodge complaints; pump more resources into identifying and investigating cases of human trafficking; and enhance coordination between government departments to combat what it calls the 'heinous crime' of human trafficking.

However, human rights lawyer Patricia Ho quickly dismissed the plan as "very weak", because it isn't backed by any new legislation that gives police or the Labour Department more power to investigate human trafficking cases, or lay out specific offences under which offenders can be fairly or adequately prosecuted and punished.

Despite such concerns, the Chief Secretary said there's no need for any new laws to target human trafficking, saying "we may not have a form of a single piece of legislation, but we do have the substance, throughout the years, effectively enforced in Hong Kong. So, we therefore consider the current approach has served Hong Kong well."

Cheung also said the government disagreed with a 2016 High Court judgement where the government was criticised for failing to fulfill its obligations under the Bill of Rights to protect victims of forced labour and human trafficking. The government has lodged an appeal.

Cheung said even though trafficking is "neither widespread nor prevalent" in Hong Kong, the government's been keeping a close watch on the trend of such crimes.

Patricia Ho said such comments are alarming, saying they cast doubt on whether the government is genuinely determined to help victims.

She also said the timing of the release of the action plan is suspicious – coming soon before the US State Department is due to publish its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report.

Last year, Hong Kong was placed on the Tier 2 Watch List for the second straight year, indicating that the territory has failed to demonstrate that it is stepping up efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking.

"Clearly the government is putting this forward as a way to respond to the criticisms of the US State Department and threats from them to downgrade Hong Kong further in its policies and strategies to assist victims of trafficking", Ho said.

She said while all efforts to give more support to victims are welcome, she’s worried that the plan is another example of the government paying lip service to concerns about human trafficking, without any substantial changes.