Portugal criticised in human trafficking report

THE SIXTH annual trafficking in persons report has been released by the US State Department. The report, which seeks to monitor human trafficking worldwide, criticises Portugal for not fully complying with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. In particular, the US State Department describes efforts to prosecute traffickers in Portugal in 2004 (the year containing the latest available data) as “inadequate”.

American Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, said the report was intended to underline America’s commitment to eradicating “this modern form of slavery”, which leads to sexual exploitation and forced labour. “Human trafficking is an illicit industry of coercion, subjugating and exploiting the world’s most vulnerable people for profit and personal gain. We estimate that up to 800,000 people, primarily women and children, are victimised each year, forced into lives of cruel and punishing degradation.” Rice said the report was intended to press more countries, “both friends and foes”, into doing more to fight against offences.

The State Department report described Portugal as “primarily a destination and transit country for women, men and children trafficked from Brazil, Eastern Europe and, to a lesser extent, Africa. Some victims are trafficked for forced labour. The majority of victims trafficked from Brazil are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation”. The report called for more “focused and highly visible demand reduction campaigns aimed at consumers in Portugal”.

It also criticised the government for its failure to punish acts of trafficking. “While the government prosecuted 45 traffickers during the reporting period (2004), only two of 27 traffickers convicted served prison time. The remaining 25 received suspended sentences. The government should aggressively prosecute trafficking cases and seek stronger penalties for traffickers that adequately reflect the heinous nature of the offence,” said the report.

However, the report does acknowledge that Portugal has made progress in certain areas. “The Portuguese government continued to provide adequate protection to victims of trafficking over the last year. This protection included subsidies for victims to receive shelter, employment, education and access to medical services, including family reunification. The government continued to operate 20 National Immigrant Support Centres throughout Portugal, to provide immigrants, including trafficking victims, with multi-lingual information and assistance.”

The report also conceded Portugal had tried to warn people about the danger of human trafficking. “The government continued to sponsor anti-trafficking information campaigns and public services announcements throughout the year. It aired various programmes on state-run channels to educate and inform the general public, including potential trafficking victims and consumers.”

Speaking at the American Embassy in Lisbon, the Deputy Chief of Mission, Ms Adrienne O’Neal, said the report was vital in order “to raise awareness of the public” about the problem. Also present at the Lisbon meeting were Matthew Harrington, Counsellor for Political and Economic Affairs, and João Ecsodi, Counsellor for Public Affairs.  Gabriel Hershman