Acting Governor Lemanu signs anti-human trafficking bill into law
American Samoa’s anti-human trafficking law will take effect this summer, now that Acting Governor Lemanu Peleti Mauga has signed into law legislation that criminalizes human trafficking and involuntary servitude.
The bill, which originated with the Lolo Administration, was approved by the House last year and endorsed by the Senate early last month. In accordance with the Revised Constitution of American Samoa, this bill becomes effective 60-days after the end of the session in which it was passed. (The 3rd session, in which the bill was passed, ended yesterday.)
In his letter to the Fono leaders about the bill, which was signed into law last Friday (Mar. 28), Lemanu said this much needed legislation will allow the government, through the Attorney General’s Office, Department of Public Safety and local Homeland Security Department “to investigate, enforce and prosecute those who would force others to work as either domestic slaves or for sexual exploitation.”
He also said that American Samoa found it necessary to incorporate “four principles in our campaign” against human trafficking (which are provisions cited in the bill):
• prevention through public awareness, education, outreach and professional training to identify, report and respond to incidents of human trafficking;
• protection for victims of human trafficking;
• prosecution to ensure that traffickers are brought to justice and their sentences reflect the severity of the inhuman treatment of others; and
• partnership with villages, agencies, government and organizations that fight human trafficking.
“We found that there have been past incidents of human trafficking in American Samoa,” Lemanu pointed out. “Victims of human trafficking are not limited to a certain age, gender, ethnicity or nationality or isolated to certain villages.”
“The past has shown that the victims are our mothers and fathers, our brothers and sisters, our nieces and nephews, our sons and daughters, our friends and neighbors. This law is the first step to ensuring the past will not be repeated,” he said.
He added, “Human trafficking has gone on too long. It is time that American Samoa comes together and moves forward in eliminating modern slavery from our islands.”
With the bill now signed into law, one of the steps to be taken by the government, as required by the new law, is mandatory training.
A provision of the bill states that in coordination with ASDHS, the Public Safety Department shall receive mandatory and on-going training on human trafficking for all law enforcement and emergency first responders in the territory.
Another provision requires the establishment of a territory wide task force under the Governor’s Office and the task force is to be headed by ASDHS and comprise members from pertinent government agencies and non government organizations.
The group is charged with among other things, identifying the scope of human trafficking in American Samoa; establishing a system for collecting and organizing data on human trafficking; providing on-going evaluation on American Samoa’s progress against human trafficking; and identifying potential assessment centers where first responders can confidentially and safely conduct intake from potential victims of human trafficking.
Deputy Attorney General Mitzie Jessop told Samoa News early last month that this proposed law “adds another tool in my tool box that the attorney general’s office can use in order to prosecute these type of cases.”
She noted that since she has been in the Attorney General’s office, she has “seen a lot of cases that have come through our office that I cannot prosecute because I have no [human trafficking] laws.” (See Samoa News edition of Mar. 11 for more details.)