Bali Process and Bangladesh: New Collaboration to Combat Human Trafficking

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A group representing the Bali Process, headed by its Co-Chairs Ambassador Lynn Bell from Australia and Ambassador Tri Tharyat from Indonesia, held discussions with Foreign Secretary Ambassador Masud Bin Momen and Secretary Md. Ruhul Amin at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on March 18, 2024. Senior officials from both sides were present during the meeting.

The Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime was founded in 2002 as an international forum aimed at fostering cooperation, information exchange, and policy formulation regarding irregular migration in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. Comprised of Bali Process Working Groups, it gathers government officials, practitioners, and experts from member states and organizations to address key regional issues and adapt to emerging challenges. The Bali Process encompasses 45 Member States, spanning a vast geographical area from the Asia Pacific to Europe and North America. Its four member organizations are The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and the International Labour Organization (ILO). Additionally, it includes 18 Observer States and nine Observer Organizations. The Bali Process is jointly led by the Foreign Ministers of Australia and Indonesia. Every two years, Ministerial Conferences are convened to assemble ministerial delegates from member states of the Bali Process. These conferences aim to assess progress, establish priorities, and identify future areas of focus. After each Ministerial Conference, the Co-Chairs issue a statement along with accompanying documents, such as an updated Declaration and Strategy for Cooperation. These documents outline the agreed-upon priorities and objectives moving forward. The aims and focal points of the Bali Process are delineated in a statement from the Co-Chairs and supplementary materials like Ministerial Declarations and a Cooperation Strategy. The Eighth Ministerial Conference of the Bali Process occurred on February 10, 2023, with a recollection and reiteration of the principles and course outlined in the 2016 and 2018 Ministerial Declarations and Co-Chairs Statements. It also acknowledges ongoing priorities from the 2018 Cooperation Strategy while identifying new areas for collaborative effort.

However, on March 18, The Foreign Secretary emphasized the Honorable Prime Minister’s strong commitment and ‘zero tolerance’ stance against human trafficking, highlighting the multifaceted nature of the issue and the difficulties in addressing it. He emphasized the necessity for a sustainable approach and collaborative efforts in tackling human trafficking. The Secretary of the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment briefed the delegation on the government of Bangladesh’s programs and initiatives, including those supported by development partners, aimed at reintegrating trafficking victims.

The Co-chairs of the Bali Process reiterated that combatting human trafficking requires robust collaboration due to its complexity and challenges. They expressed concern over the increased irregular movements among forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals, emphasizing the need for collective action.

The Foreign Secretary urged Bali Process members to actively engage in finding a lasting solution to the Rohingya crisis, highlighting its potential economic, societal, environmental, and security implications for Bangladesh and the broader region. Among other topics discussed in the meeting were skill development and capacity-building for law enforcement agencies, as well as enhancing social awareness programs through increased collaboration among Bali Process Member States.

The Bangladesh government intensified its law enforcement efforts, notably through the enactment of the 2012 Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act (PSHTA), which criminalized both sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Penalties for these offenses ranged from five years to life imprisonment, along with a fine of at least 50,000 Bangladeshi Taka (BDT) ($476). Additionally, bonded labor was identified as a distinct crime, carrying penalties of five to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine of not less than 50,000 BDT ($476).

Moreover, the government saw an uptick in prosecutions and convictions related to human trafficking, largely attributed to the establishment of seven Anti-Human Trafficking Tribunals in 2020. These tribunals facilitated a notable increase in the number of trafficking prosecutions, resulting in the conviction of 94 traffickers across 35 cases. Specifically, the Dhaka Tribunal recorded 78 convictions in 30 cases, the Rajshahi tribunal saw 14 convictions in four cases, and the Barishal tribunal secured two convictions in a single case. Comprising judges and special prosecutors, these tribunals were dedicated to addressing human trafficking cases and managing the significant backlog. Furthermore, trafficking cases were heard in seven of Bangladesh’s eight division capitals, with judges overseeing cases involving violence against women and children also handling trafficking matters in the remaining 57 districts.

Therefore, the recent meeting between the Bali Process and Bangladeshi officials underscores a shared commitment to combat human trafficking. Emphasizing a ‘zero tolerance’ stance, the discussions highlight the need for sustainable strategies and collaboration. Bangladesh’s efforts for victim reintegration and concerns over displaced Myanmar nationals demonstrate urgency for collective action. Addressing the Rohingya crisis, along with initiatives for law enforcement training and social awareness, reflects a comprehensive approach. Overall, the meeting signals unified efforts to tackle trafficking and related crimes, emphasizing international cooperation.

– Syed Raiyan Amir is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

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