The US State Department said it had received “isolated reports of officials allegedly complicit in trafficking and reports of inadequate investigations” as it kept Sri Lanka on its Tier 2 Watch List on the Country Trafficking Scale, in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report.
The report notes that the Sri Lankan government continues in its failure to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is “making significant efforts to do so”. However, it went on to state the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period.
The decrease in the number of trafficking victims identified by the government, and continued inadequate efforts to identify Sri Lankan forced labour victims abroad, has left many potential trafficking victims without social and legal assistance.
According to this report, alongside the reports of Sri Lankan officials being complicit in trafficking, there have also been “inadequate investigations”. Instead of referring potential trafficking cases to police for criminal investigation for trafficking offenses, the Sri Lankan Bureau of Foreign Employment continued to handle nearly all migrant labour complaints administratively. Many of these complaints had indicators of forced labour. Furthermore, NGOs expressed concerns that police continued to arrest victims of trafficking for prostitution, vagrancy, and immigration offences whilst failing to investigate and arrest traffickers appropriately. In addition to this, observers reported concerns that child sex trafficking victims from previous reporting periods remained in government detention centres.
The latest report comes as officials who have known to be complicit in trafficking continue to hold senior government positions. One such official is the Douglas Devananda of the EPDP, a pro-government Tamil paramilitary organisation accused of committing human rights abuses throughout and after the war, who serves as Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development minister. The group stands accused of committing murders, extortion and running drug smuggling and prostitution rings with Tamil children, allegedly trafficking them into its networks in Malaysia and India.
See more on the EPDP’s activities, described in a leaked US embassy cable from 2007, here.
Read the full 2020 Trafficking in Persons report here.