Human trafficking, involuntary servitude bill introduced
If enacted into law, human trafficking and involuntary servitude will be felony crimes in American Samoa under legislation introduced yesterday in the House with a committee hearing set for next week.
For several years now, local law enforcement officials, supported by the U.S. Justice Department, have been calling for American Samoa to enact a human trafficking law, due to the lack of one in the territory.
Several bills were introduced in the Fono over the years to criminalize human trafficking, but all failed after the measures failed to make it out of committee. The last attempt to enact such a law was back in 2010 and was cited in the 2011 Human Trafficking Report by the U.S. State Department release last summer.
That same report states in part that American Samoa “is believed to be a transit and destination island for human trafficking.” However, in fiscal year 2011, there were no new reported human trafficking cases, the report notes.
The first major human trafficking case that surfaced in the territory, and made international headlines, was the Daewoosa Samoa garment factory in 2001. It was the first time many local residents became aware of human trafficking in the territory, described by the U.S. Government as mostly underground operations, making it difficult to determine the actual number of known victims.
The latest measure, called “Anti-Human Trafficking and Involuntary Servitude” defines and prohibits criminal conduct involving certain trafficking in persons and involuntary servitude, establishing a new section of the American Samoa Code Annotated (ASCA).
The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Archie Taotasi Soliai, Talo Lemapu Suiaunoa, Vailoaa Eteuati Amutuana’i, Toeaina Faufano Autele, I’aulualo Faafetai Talia, Timusa Tini Lam Yuen, Puleleiite Li’amatua Tufele, Larry Sanitoa, Va’amua Henry Sesepasara and Talaimatai Elisara Su’a.
The bill differs from legislation previously introduced that didn’t make it out of committee in that provisions for the protection of victims from their traffickers and their associates was missing, as well as one that calls for the local government to provide financial support and counseling to victims. Included, these provisions make the law similar to federal law.
According to the measure, every person who knowingly subjects another person by any means, including abduction, fraud or deception, to forced labor or services, or assumes rights of ownership over any person, or who sells any person to another, or receives money or anything of value in consideration of placing any person in the custody of or under the power or control of another, or who buys any person, or pays money or delivers anything of value to another in consideration of having any person placed in his/her custody, or under his/her power or control, who knowingly aids or assists in any manner, anyone who violates this statute is guilty of involuntary servitude.
This is a class A felony crime, punishable by life in jail or imprisonment for a minimum of ten years or more, according to current laws for this felony.
The bill says, every person who knowingly subjects another person to forced labor or services or who knowingly participates in, recruits, entices, harbors, transports, provides, or obtains by any means another person with the intention or knowledge, or who should have known that the person will be subjected to coercion, forced labor or services, or who benefits financially or by receiving anything of value from participation in a venture which has engaged in an act described or defined in this chapter, including but not limited to commercial sex activity or sexually explicit performance is guilty of human trafficking.
This crime is a class B felony, punishable by up to 5 years in jail but less than 15 years.
If a human trafficking act is committed by means of a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument, then it is a class A felony, according to the bill.
It is also a Class A felony if a person is convicted of trafficking a minor under 18 years of age at the time of the crime, it says.
Additionally every person who “attempts” to engage in involuntary servitude and human trafficking is guilty of this offense, the bill states.
TRAFFICKING VICTIMS REGULATIONS
According to the bill, the Attorney General in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security, is charged with promulgating regulations for law enforcement personnel, including immigration officials, to implement policies to protect victims of involuntary servitude or human trafficking. While victims are in ASG custody and to the extent practicable shall:
• not be detained in facilities inappropriate to their status as crime victims; and
• provide protection and assistance to victims of such involuntary servitude or human trafficking and in full compliance with their human rights and/or if a victim's safety is at risk, or if there is danger of additional harm by recapture of the victim by a trafficker, including taking measures to protect trafficked persons and their family members from intimidation and threat of reprisals from traffickers and their associates and ensure that the names and identifying information of trafficked persons and their families members are not disclosed to the public.
The bill also states victims of such of crimes shall have access to information about their rights, and, if necessary, translation services.
Moreover, Health Department and Human and Social Services Department, in consultation with appropriate non-government entities shall establish and carry out programs and initiatives to assist in providing financial support, basic medical care, shelter and counseling to victims.
The bill was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee chaired by Rep. Florence Vaili Saulo, who has scheduled a hearing for next week Thursday. Witnesses scheduled to testify are Attorney General Afoa L Su’esu’e Lutu and Homeland Security Director Usoali’i Iuniasolua Savusa.
Samoa News reporter Fili Sagapolutele contributed to this report.
THE NEW COMMENTS PROCESS
To make comments, you will need to register. You can register under your real name or use a 'screen' name. This way, people will be able to follow comments and make comments back and forth to each other. If you choose to use a 'screen name' no one will know your true identity. In either case, no email addresses will be available to anyone. It is an automated process. If you have questions, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
You currently are not logged in, please LOGIN to post comments.