Fono OKs Human Trafficking & Involuntary Servitude law
Once signed into law by Gov. Lolo M. Moliga, American Samoa will have its first ever legislation outlawing Human Trafficking and Involuntary Servitude in the territory, as the House version of the bill was approved in an unanimous vote in the Senate yesterday.
The House version of the bill was introduced in July last year, and was passed by the House in August last year. The Senate then held a hearing last year September, where the issue of the effect of the bill on the Samoan culture was raised by the Senate Pro-Tem Nuanuaolefeagaiga Saoluaga Nua.
At that time, the bill was tabled by the Senate Judiciary Committee and was not raised again until last Wednesday, Mar. 5, when a hearing was once again held by the committee to discuss the measure.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Acting Attorney General Mitzie Jessop and Henry Kappel, the Fono’s legal counsel testified for the bill, stating it is very important as the territory has a history of human slavery. “This particular bill will give the prosecutors and judiciary a tool to control and hopefully remove human trafficking,” Kappel noted.
This time, the effect of the bill on the Samoan culture was raised in terms of ‘ifoga’ — the Samoan traditional apology for ‘heinous’ acts — when the Chair of the Judiciary Committee, Soliai Tuipine, asked Jessop what part the weight of the traditional ifoga for a defendant would play in this particular law.
The Acting AG stated there is part of the statute where a traditional apology would have weight with the courts when they hand down sentencing.
The bill proposes that any person who deprives or violates the personal liberty of another with intent to obtain forced labor or service, or to engage in a commercial sex act, or both is guilty of human trafficking as a Class B felony.
However, trafficking of a minor would be a Class A felony, which carries a minimum sentence of ten years in prison — meaning that despite the traditional apology — if it’s a minor, it is mandatory to serve 10 years in jail.
(Samoa News should point out that Senator Nuanuaolefeagaiga was not present during the hearing as he was in Manu’a.)
The House bill approved by the Senators in final reading had changes, which were agreed to by both counsels. The changes add clarification of various terms in the bill, by defining them — terms such as “liberty” and “sexual acts”.
During the hearing, the Senators asked why this bill had taken so long to come before them for passage, and Kappel pointed out that a similar version of the bill was introduced in the Fono several years ago, however it did not make it through. (See Background below for more details.)
Another question, by Senator Mauga Tasi Asuega, asked Jessop what the community leaders could do to make the public aware of human trafficking and involuntary servitude.
Acting AG Jessop replied that in the bill it is mandatory for an American Samoa Human Trafficking Task Force to be formed. It’s tasks, among others, are to collect data, develop interagency cooperation, and also develop how the government would be able to combat human trafficking, which would include an outreach to the Chiefs involved in the village councils to educate the people on the subject.
The measure was an administration bill, introduced last year in July. Governor Lolo in his intro of the bill wrote that he was adamant it was needed in order to criminalize such conduct — noting such a law is long over due.
At the time, he pointed out that it had been 15 years since the Daewoosa Garment Factory opened its doors, ultimately leading to American Samoa making international headlines as the largest trafficking prosecution in the history of the United States. The case was also the first such case to surface in the territory.
The 2001 Daewoosa Samoa garment factory case was described by the U.S. Government as mostly an underground operation, making it difficult to determine the actual number of known victims.
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 did not make it out of committee.
One attempt to enact a law was back in 2010 and was cited in the 2011 Human Trafficking Report by the U.S. State Department, released last summer.
The 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.
In March 2012, another human trafficking law was introduced, and it was 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. This bill did not make it out of the House Judicial Committee either.
One main supporter calling to have a human trafficking law enacted is the Multi Disciplinary Task Force (MDT) chaired by Mitzie Jessop and Vice Chaired by Ipu Avegalio Lefiti.
The MDT group advocates for survivors of family violence and trafficking victims and they work with zero funding. The MDT partners have been advocating for victims and survivors of domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault and the prevention and awareness of human trafficking.
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