Last Updated: Thursday, 18 January 2018, 16:17 GMT

Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 - Timor-Leste

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 14 June 2010
Cite as United States Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 - Timor-Leste, 14 June 2010, available at: [accessed 19 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Timor-Leste is a destination country for women from Indonesia and China subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically nonconsensual commercial sexual exploitation. To a lesser extent, it is also a destination country for men from Burma subjected to forced labor in construction and other fields, and recently for men from Cambodia and Thailand subjected to forced labor on fishing boats. Some migrant women in Dili report being locked up upon arrival, and forced by brothel 'bosses' and clients to use drugs and/or alcohol while providing sexual services. Some women kept in brothels were allowed to leave the brothel only if they paid USD 20 an hour. Male victims are forced to labor on fishing boats with little space, no medical care, and poor food. Traffickers used debt bondage through repayment of fees and loans acquired during their recruitment and/or transport to Timor Leste to achieve consent of some of the men laboring on the fishing vessels. Victims report traffickers subjected them to threats, beatings, chronic sleep deprivation, insufficient food and fresh water, and total restrictions on freedom of movement - victims on fishing vessels rarely or never went ashore during their time on board. Transnational traffickers may be members of Indonesian or Chinese organized crime syndicates, and the trafficking offenders who use male victims on fishing boats are reportedly Thai.

The Government of Timor-Leste does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so, despite limited resources. During the year, the government created specific prohibitions of human trafficking in its newly established Penal Code. It also enacted the Witness Protection Act, informally referred victims to NGOs for assistance, arrested suspected trafficking offenders, and offered foreign victims relief from deportation. The government, however, did not investigate persistent reports of lower-level police and immigrations officials accepting bribes from traffickers.

Recommendations for Timor-Leste: Increase investigations, prosecutions, and punishment of trafficking offenders; train more law enforcement officers on victim identification; utilize provisions of the Witness Protection Act to assist trafficking victims; finish developing and institute formal national procedures for referring victims to service providers; and investigate, prosecute, and punish government officials who accept bribes from sex traffickers.


The Government of Timor-Leste demonstrated an increase in anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts over the past year. The government arrested nine suspected trafficking offenders, though it has not yet prosecuted or convicted any of them. The Ministry of Justice finalized revisions to the Timor-Leste Penal Code, which defines and punishes the crime of trafficking, and provides protection to witnesses and victims. The new Penal Code built upon the Immigration and Asylum Act of 2003, which had no specific provisions for trafficking. Articles 163, 164, and 165 of the penal code specifically prohibit trafficking, and Articles 162 and 166 prohibit slavery and the sale of persons. The Articles prescribe sufficiently stringent penalties ranging from four to 25 years' imprisonment, which are commensurate with punishments prescribed under law for other serious crimes, such as rape. Specific provisions prohibit trafficking offenses committed against a "particularly vulnerable" person or a minor, which it defines as a person under 17 years of age, as opposed to 18. Although last year the government did not continue its comprehensive anti-trafficking training program for law enforcement, it worked with IOM to plan a far-reaching training program to be held during 2010. There was some evidence that border officials allegedly accept bribes to let victims enter Timor-Leste, thereby facilitating trafficking. There were also reports that some police officers in Dili accepted bribes to allow brothels where potential trafficking victims are forced to engage in prostitution to continue operating. Some international and local NGOs alleged that some lower-level members of the police frequent these establishments. No investigations have been undertaken to explore these reports.


During the past year, the government clearly increased protections it offered to victims of trafficking. It continued to ensure victims' access to specialized protection services provided by NGOs and international organizations, as a serious lack of resources and personnel continued to limit the Timorese government's ability to provide services directly. The IOM and NGO PRADET forged a partnership with the government to establish the first shelter for trafficked women and girls, where victims have access to comprehensive direct assistance including shelter, mental and physical health care, counseling, return and repatriation, and integration/reintegration services. The Ministry of Social Solidarity (MSS) provided shelter for trafficked women and, for the first time, men upon request by IOM or other parties. NGO service providers were responsible for the day-to-day care of persons using the MSS shelter in partnerships developed with MSS. The government did not provide long-term care for victims. It did, however, grant two foreign male victims the right to remain in the country, assisted in acquiring identity documentation from the embassy of their native country, and suspended the deportation processes. In 2009, there were no reports of detentions of trafficked persons, and the government continued to allow lower-level officials to make prompt decisions regarding foreigners' status as trafficking victims. The rights of trafficking victims were respected and victims were not penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being trafficked. Trafficked men who have entered the country without documentation were required to appear in court, but courts no longer pursued illegal entry charges against them; victims were instead referred for assistance. Two foreign victims who did not wish to return to their home countries were offered renewable temporary residence that could lead to permanent residency. Officials encouraged trafficked persons to participate in law enforcement investigations. Within the government, so far only the Immigration Department of the Ministry of the Interior followed formal procedures to proactively identify trafficking victims among high-risk populations such as foreign women in prostitution. The government provided some training in preparation for the finalization and implementation of a national victim referral mechanism, expected to be completed in mid-2010. During the year, law enforcement agencies referred 21 confirmed cases of trafficking and four presumed cases of trafficking to IOM or to the embassies of the victims' countries of origin.


The Government of Timor-Leste acknowledges that trafficking is a problem in the country, and sustained its modest level of prevention and public awareness efforts in partnership with NGOs and international organizations. The Minister of Foreign Affairs chaired the Inter-Agency Trafficking Working Group (ITWG) which met three times in Dili with representatives from the civil, religious, diplomatic communities, and representatives from nongovernmental and international organizations.

The ITWG established a subcommittee including three Ministries; the Migration Service; the Secretary of State for the Promotion of Equality; the Provedor for Human Rights and Justice; the National Police; the Prosecutor General's Office; and four NGOs. The subcommittee participated in training and three legislation-drafting sessions. Poster and leaflet awareness campaigns conducted by NGOs and international organizations in cooperation with the government targeted potential victims in Dili and throughout the districts. Officials monitored immigration and emigration patterns for evidence of trafficking; immigration officials in Dili district have had some success identifying potential victims through such monitoring. The government has not taken any steps to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.

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