Last Updated: Monday, 22 January 2018, 12:53 GMT

2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Timor-Leste

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 19 June 2012
Cite as United States Department of State, 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Timor-Leste, 19 June 2012, available at: [accessed 23 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 and girls from Indonesia, China, and the Philippines subjected to sex trafficking and men and boys from Burma, Cambodia, and Thailand subjected to forced labor. In previous years, men and boys from Burma, Cambodia and Thailand were forced to labor on foreign fishing boats operating in Timorese waters where they face conditions of confinement, no medical care, and poor food; some escaped their exploiters and swam ashore to seek refuge in Timor-Leste. The placement of children in bonded domestic and agricultural labor by family members in order to pay off family debts was also a problem. Timor-Leste may also be a source of women or girls sent to Singapore and elsewhere in Southeast Asia for domestic servitude. Some migrant women recruited for work in Dili report being locked up upon arrival, and forced by brothel "bosses" and clients to use drugs or alcohol while providing sexual services. Some women kept in brothels were allowed to leave the brothel only if they paid the equivalent of $20 an hour. Traffickers regularly retained the passports of victims, and reportedly rotated sex trafficking victims in and out of the country every few months. Traffickers used debt bondage through repayment of fees and loans acquired during recruitment or transport to Timorese waters to achieve consent of some of the men laboring on fishing vessels. Traffickers subjected victims to threats, beatings, chronic sleep deprivation, insufficient food or 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 exploited male victims on fishing boats were reportedly Thai nationals.

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. During the year, the government obtained three successful trafficking convictions – the first in the country's history – and imposed adequate prison sentences on the convicted offenders. The government's victim protection efforts, however, were inadequate, and it failed to protect 18 of the 19 victims in this case, whose whereabouts are unknown. The government took tentative steps to increase victim protection by providing funding to an NGO shelter, but subsequently withdrew this funding. Despite increased maritime patrols and continued brothel raids, the government identified only one trafficking victim during the year, raising concerns that some victims were not identified and instead were treated as law violators and deported rather than referred to protective services. The government did not investigate reports of trafficking-related complicity, such as lower-level police and immigration officials accepting bribes from traffickers.

Recommendations for Timor-Leste: Enact comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation that includes strong victim protections; continue efforts to investigate, prosecute, convict, and punish trafficking offenders; train judicial officials on investigation and prosecution methods, including how to integrate procedures for proper victim care throughout the duration of court proceedings; make efforts to investigate and prosecute officials complicit in human trafficking; implement procedures to proactively identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable populations, such as individuals in prostitution and workers on fishing vessels; develop and formally establish policies which clarify perceived inconsistencies in the country's code of criminal procedure, thereby granting police the unambiguous authority to initiate investigations of crimes proactively; increase training for front-line law enforcement officers in the vulnerable persons unit on proper victim identification procedures and referral mechanisms, including recognition of trafficking victims who may possess their travel documents or may have entered the country legally; increase the quality and types of assistance provided to trafficking victims; and develop and conduct anti-trafficking information and education campaigns.


The Government of Timor-Leste increased law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking during the reporting period, including by obtaining its first trafficking conviction. In early 2012, anti-trafficking legislation drafted in a previous year was submitted to the Council of Ministers for review, where it remained at the close of the reporting period. Timor-Leste's revised penal code prohibits and punishes the crime of trafficking through articles 163, 164, and 165; articles 162 and 166 prohibit slavery and the sale of persons. The articles prescribe sufficiently stringent penalties ranging from eight to 20 years' imprisonment; prescribed penalties for sex trafficking or the trafficking of a person younger than 17 range from 12 to 25 years' imprisonment and are commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government reported investigating two trafficking cases during the year. It initiated prosecutions in one case from a previous year, in which three Chinese nationals were accused of forcing 19 Chinese victims into prostitution or labor related to running a brothel. In December 2011, the government convicted the three traffickers, and sentenced them to prison terms ranging from 13 and 13.5 years. These were the first trafficking convictions obtained in Timor-Leste. The convictions are currently being appealed, and the government has possession of the convicted offenders' passports to prevent them from leaving the country. The second investigation, involving a Timorese girl in domestic servitude, remained ongoing at the close of the reporting period. No information was available on the status of one case pending at the close of the previous year, or nine cases pending from 2010. The government did not train law enforcement officers or other government officials on investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases. The government did not report any efforts to investigate suspected trafficking complicity of public officials, despite reports that immigration officials accepted bribes to allow undocumented Chinese trafficking victims into the country, and that some police officers in Dili accepted bribes to allow brothels – where potential trafficking victims may be identified – to continue operating. International and local NGOs alleged that some lower-level members of the police frequent these establishments.


The government demonstrated weak efforts to protect trafficking victims; it identified and provided services to only one victim during the year, and it may have restricted the mobility of 18 victims – identified during the previous year – by withholding their passports as evidence in a criminal investigation against their traffickers. Police identified one Timorese girl in domestic servitude but no other victims during the year. Immigration police referred one suspected victim, a Burmese male, to an international organization which assessed that he was not a victim of trafficking. Police in the vulnerable persons unit followed a standard operating procedure to refer identified victims to the Ministry of Social Solidarity; the one victim identified was so referred, and the ministry subsequently referred her to a shelter operated by an NGO. The government maintained a protocol of referring foreign victims to an international organization for care, though no such victims were identified during the year. The government did not operate any dedicated shelters for trafficking victims or provide victims with any protective services, though it did refer one Timorese victim to an NGO to receive care. Victims of domestic servitude may be eligible for some protective services codified in the Law on Domestic Violence. During the year, the Ministry of Social Solidarity provided the equivalent of $10,000 to partially fund a local NGO shelter for trafficking victims, but it subsequently discontinued this support, citing lack of use by victims, and the shelter closed due to lack of funds in December 2011. One shelter operated by an NGO was available to assist with victims' basic needs and to provide medical, psychological, and educational services. The government could not provide information on the whereabouts of 18 Chinese victims identified during the previous year whose case was concluded in December 2011; neither local NGOs nor international organizations had received these victims. Judicial officials may have held the victims' passports as evidence for the duration of the case, effectively restricting their ability to leave the country. It is unknown whether the passports, reportedly seized, were returned after the conclusion of the case, although the judge ordered officials to do so. Problems with victim identification continued, likely resulting in some victims remaining unidentified, despite coming into contact with authorities, and some being treated as law violators and deported for immigration offences. Authorities relied on the possession of passports as the determining indicator in identifying trafficking cases; potential victims who did not self-identify and who possessed their documents were not screened for other forms of coercion or referred to NGOs or international organizations for assistance. Police interpreted an article in the country's code of criminal procedure as only granting investigative authority to public prosecutors; this led to a policy, in practice, of only investigating cases in which the victim self-identifies as such. Police conducted raids on brothels and detained and deported Indonesian and Chinese women found in prostitution for immigration violations, without making adequate attempts to identify trafficking victims among them. The government provides a temporary legal alternative to the removal of victims to countries where they may face retribution or hardship, allowing them to stay in Timor-Leste for two years. The government did not provide temporary or extended work visas to trafficking victims during this reporting period.


The Government of Timor-Leste made limited efforts to prevent trafficking during the reporting period. It increased patrols of its territorial waters to combat criminality, including forced labor on fishing vessels, though these efforts did not result in the identification of any trafficking cases during the year. The president continued to speak publicly about the need to increase efforts to combat human trafficking, and government officials participated in foreign donor-funded radio and television campaigns about trafficking on government-sponsored stations. The government's inter-ministerial trafficking working group met twice in 2011 to finalize a national plan of action, drafted during the previous year, and to review draft anti-trafficking legislation; however, the council's passage of the decree law necessary to enact the plan of action is on hold until parliament approves the legislation. In November 2011, parliament approved a an increase equivalent to $67,000 in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' budget in order to fund an international anti-trafficking conference in Dili in 2012. Observers report that police raids on brothels in Dili over the last three years have led to a decreased demand for commercial sex acts; however, due to a lack of proactive victim identification procedures, these efforts may have caused some victims to be treated as law violators.

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