S'pore accedes to trafficking protocol

Inking of UN pact represents commitment to tackling the crime, says MHA senior director

Singapore has acceded to international standards of prosecuting and convicting human traffickers under the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (UN TIP Protocol).

According to a statement by the Singapore Inter-Agency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons released yesterday, outgoing Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam signed the accession agreement to the protocol, in force since 2000 and which has 117 signatories. This makes the treaty binding on the country.

On Monday, the document was deposited by Ministry of Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Chee Wee Kiong at the UN Treaty Event in New York and received by Mr Santiago Villalpando, chief of the UN Treaty Section.

Singapore has on occasion contested its ranking in the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report released by the United States.

In the latest report out in July, Singapore retained - for the fifth year - its Tier 2 position on a four-tier ranking. This means the country, which enacted trafficking-specific laws in March, has not fully complied with US laws on human trafficking but is making "significant efforts" to do so.

Mr Marvin Sim, co-chair of the task force and a senior director at the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), said accession to the UN TIP Protocol "represents Singapore's commitment to combat all forms of trafficking in persons".

He said it was "an important step towards stronger cooperation with international law enforcement agencies in fighting this transnational crime".

The MHA will continue to raise public awareness, strengthen enforcement and enhance the provision of care to trafficked victims, Mr Sim said.

According to the TIP report, Singapore identified 33 victims and initiated 11 prosecutions in four cases since it enacted laws in March, but did not convict any traffickers.

The report also noted that the Government "provided some victim assistance through government programmes for vulnerable groups, but did not make progress in ensuring all victims systematically received protection".

Human rights activists in Singapore said it remained to be seen if the country would fully comply with the protocol.

Mr Jolovan Wham, executive director of the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, said: "The law does not guarantee basic rights to victims, and important aspects of trafficking such as forced labour are not clearly defined. Much more needs to change if we want to tackle trafficking effectively."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2015, with the headline 'S'pore accedes to trafficking protocol'. Print Edition | Subscribe