Trafficking in Persons Report 2017 - Country Narratives - Timor-Leste


The Government of Timor-Leste does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Timor-Leste remained on Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by significantly increasing the number of investigations and prosecutions of trafficking cases; promulgating draft anti-trafficking legislation; conducting training sessions for law enforcement; and taking steps to strengthen its interagency capacity and coordination with civil society to address key anti-trafficking deficiencies. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Efforts to establish a standard operating procedure on victim identification were incomplete at the end of the reporting period. Authorities charged some suspected trafficking victims with immigration violations and confiscated their passports, and detained and deported without proper screening dozens of foreign women who may have been subjected to sex trafficking while working in establishments suspected of forced prostitution. Shelters upon which the government relied for victim protection were largely unable to provide adequate accommodations due to space constraints. The government did not obtain any convictions for trafficking offenses during the reporting period.


Adequately fund law enforcement agencies to conduct thorough investigations of trafficking offenses, proactively initiate prosecutions, and convict and punish traffickers, including complicit officials, in accordance with new anti-trafficking legislation; strengthen efforts to ensure victims do not face arrest, deportation, or other punishment for acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; finalize, implement, and train officials on formal procedures for victim identification among vulnerable populations, such as individuals in prostitution, domestic workers, and migrant workers on fishing vessels, and ensure proper screening procedures are employed upon detention or prior to initiating deportation; increase resources for protective services focusing on trafficking victims, and establish and train officials on standard operating procedures to ensure victims are consistently referred to appropriate care; conduct training for prosecutors and judges, including on how to integrate victim protection throughout the duration of court proceedings; finalize data collection procedures through the Interagency Trafficking Working Group; and increase anti-trafficking education and awareness campaigns for the public.


The government made increased law enforcement efforts and took steps to strengthen relevant legislation. Articles 163 and 164 of the criminal code criminalize all forms of trafficking and prescribe eight to 25 years imprisonment—penalties which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. In February 2017, the government promulgated the Law on Preventing and Combating Human Trafficking to amend the criminal code, extending criminal liability for trafficking to “legal persons,” such as corporations. The new law prescribes fines, judicial dissolution, and asset forfeiture as penalties, and authorizes compensation of victims.

The government reported that it investigated 176 cases of suspected trafficking—a significant increase from 12 in 2015. It confirmed 79 of these as genuine trafficking cases and initiated 16 prosecutions, an increase from six in 2015. For the fourth consecutive year, the government did not obtain any convictions; all prosecutions remained pending at the end of the reporting period. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses. In the past, police officers reported using their own personal funds to pursue trafficking investigations due to inadequate resource allocation from the government. The government held an anti-trafficking training for 20 national police (PNTL) officers, 20 immigration officers, and 10 serious crimes investigators, and allocated a PNTL chief investigator to the Bali Process Regional Support Office in Bangkok for a three-month secondment. Despite these efforts, police and prosecutors generally lacked adequate training in victim-centered approaches to law enforcement and legal proceedings.


The government demonstrated increased efforts to protect victims. Among the 176 suspected trafficking victims identified, the PNTL referred 21—all Chinese nationals—to short-term shelter and protective services run by a local NGO. This was an increase from 10 in 2015. It is unclear how many identified victims, if any, benefited from protective services made available directly by the government. The justice ministry continued to develop standard operating procedures to formalize victim identification intended to replace the current methodology, in which police ask 25 probative questions largely reliant on the presence or lack of movement to determine whether or not a case is human trafficking. It was unclear how often police employed this process during the reporting period. The government allocated funds to two NGOs to provide psycho-social and shelter services to trafficking victims; however, with space for only four victims at a time, the primary protective service NGO experienced severe logistical constraints in accommodating the aforementioned 21 victims. Most female victims received services available to victims of other crimes, such as domestic violence and sexual assault; according to one international organization, this arrangement complicated provision of protective services to male victims of trafficking.

The government’s referral system employed Ministry of Social Solidarity field staff to receive tips from local communities and coordinate with police and NGOs, which reported improved cooperation through the referral network. An unknown number of victims received vocational training, legal assistance, or reintegration support from NGOs, some of which received government funds. According to immigration officials, police, and media sources, foreign women in prostitution—many of whom were possible victims of sex trafficking—were sometimes detained en masse during law enforcement raids and then deported without proper screening, or as a result of arresting officers’ inability to derive pertinent information from the women due to their having been coached to provide identical accounts. For this reason, PNTL officers claimed they were not able to obtain sufficient evidence to prosecute the owners of a karaoke bar who may have subjected 67 foreign women to sex trafficking during the reporting period. The PNTL reported karaoke bar owners confiscated the passports of foreign workers and only surrendered them if the police ordered the foreign workers’ deportation. Authorities also charged some suspected victims with immigration violations, after which they appeared at initial court hearings and were made to forfeit their passports to secure their reappearance. Authorities believed this arrangement pushed some of the victims to return to their offending places of work rather than face deportation. The government did not provide foreign victims with alternatives to their removal to countries where they may face hardship or retribution, and it is unclear if it assisted in the voluntary repatriation of any victims.

The 2017 Law on Preventing and Combating Human Trafficking provides extensive protections for victims, including those specific to victims testifying in criminal cases. The new law also authorizes a period of reflection and potential residence permits to foreign victims as well as voluntary repatriation of Timorese victims from abroad. The Ministry of Justice began working with an international organization to formulate implementing regulations for the new law during the reporting period.


The government demonstrated increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The government did not conduct research to assess the trafficking problem in the country, nor did it systematically monitor its anti-trafficking efforts, but it took steps to initiate the process. It set up a monitoring committee intended to measure the progress of its Interagency Trafficking Working Group in effectively implementing the National Action Plan on Combating Human Trafficking. It also formed a joint government and civil society-led data collection sub-working group to help address key anti-trafficking deficiencies. According to the Secretary of State for Professional Training and Employment, Timor-Leste will only enter into bilateral government-to-government labor agreements—and not with members of private industry—to protect Timorese laborers from exploitation abroad; during the reporting period, the government rebuffed private firm offers from Malaysia and Dubai due to these concerns. Unlike in previous years, the government conducted anti-trafficking trainings for its diplomats in partnership with IOM. It did not take measures to reduce the demand for forced labor or commercial sex.


As reported for the last three years, Timor-Leste is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking, and is a source for women and girls sent to Indonesia and other countries for domestic servitude. Timorese women, girls, and occasionally young men and boys from rural areas are led to the capital with the promise of better employment or education prospects and are subjected to sex trafficking or domestic servitude; there are reports of official complicity in these practices. Timorese family members place children in bonded household and agricultural labor, primarily in domestic rural areas but also abroad, to pay off family debts. Foreign women, including those from Cambodia, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, are vulnerable to sex trafficking in Timor-Leste. Transnational traffickers may be members of Indonesian or Chinese organized crime syndicates, and they appear to rotate foreign victims of sex trafficking in and out of the country for the length of a 90-day tourist visa in order to avoid raising suspicions or calling attention to the crime through visa overstay violations. NGOs report fishermen on foreign vessels operating in Timorese waters may be vulnerable to trafficking. Police accept bribes from establishments involved in trafficking or from traffickers attempting to cross borders illegally, and in prior years have been identified as clients of commercial sex venues investigated for suspected trafficking.