Diluted Justice – protection and redress for trafficked fishermen in Asia

Diluted Justice – protection and redress for trafficked fishermen in Asia

In December 2012, a migrant workers’ rights NGO Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), released a report: ‘Troubled Waters: Trafficking of Filipino Men into the Long Haul Fishing Industry through Singapore’, written by Dr Sallie Yea, with contributions by Shelley Thio.

Diluted Justice’ is both a follow-up to that report and an expansion upon it, looking at trafficking cases involving men from Cambodia and Indonesia as well as the Philippines. It underlines the concerns expressed in ‘Troubled Waters’ as well as outlining proposals for combatting the abuses it describes.

It was hoped that it will contribute towards growing international efforts to bring to an end trafficking into the fishing industry, as well as, more broadly, to efforts to improve protections for the men who risk life and limb on the high seas catching fish.

Diluted Justice is a joint research by Dr Sallie Yea and TWC2, it focused on the trafficking of fishermen involving Singaporean, Taiwanese, Filipino, Cambodian and Indonesian actors working in collusion to deploy men into hyper-exploitative working situations on Taiwanese fishing vessels.

The research reveals that trafficked fishermen face i2121mpenetrable barriers to access legal and economic justice and protection.

The research found out that these barriers are caused by the following factors:

  • Significant gaps in measures for victim identification,
  • A lack of coordinated support for the psycho-social needs and well-being of trafficked fishermen upon exiting the trafficked situation and during criminal justice proceedings,
  • Absence of political will of authorities from different jurisdictions to help secure documentary evidence and extradite witnesses hampering successful prosecution,
  • Inadequacy of political will of concerned authorities to be pro-active in investigating named suspects involved in trafficking networks,
  • The tendency for concerned authorities to cite jurisdictional loopholes thus diverting responsibility over investigating trafficking crimes and prosecuting alleged criminals.

The above conclusions were derived from interviews conducted with:

  • Fishermen victims – some of whom were also witnesses in criminal justice proceedings and plaintiffs in civil compensation cases,
  • Their family members,
  • And key informants from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and international organisations in Singapore, Cambodia, the Philippines and Indonesia.

To support the key arguments documentary evidence shared by interviewees were also produced. And news reports on recent high profile cases of trafficked fishermen were also cited to reinforce findings.

“The findings of this research confirm that despite recent sustained international attention to human trafficking and modern day slavery, there’s still much to be done to address the human tragedy of exploitation without redress experienced by trafficked fishermen whose lives if not broken are irreparably damaged in emotional, financial, relational and health terms as a result of their experience at sea,” said the principal researcher of the report, Dr Sallie Yea.

“The report provides detailed insights on what trafficked fishermen from impoverished communities in the region have had to go through after exiting trafficked situations. Singapore is a significant transit point for fishermen and port of call for fishing vessels. The evidence presented also point to Singapore registered companies and Singapore actors performing an active role in recruiting and deploying trafficked fishermen in the two known cases involving Cambodian and Filipino fishers,” she said.

Ms Shelley Thio, TWC2 Executive Committee and Senior Case Volunteer who has helped trafficked fishermen and their families and who contributed to the report, said, “We urge the Singapore government as well as the governments of jurisdictions from where other actors involved in the crimes of trafficking come from to resist deflecting responsibility, remove instituitional barriers, step up measures and abide by the guidelines and minimum standards set out by the UN Anti-Trafficking Protocol to punish those who are guilty of trafficking, protect victims and eradicate trafficking from the global supply chain of seafood .”

In the report, Dr Yea and TWC2 have outlined nine recommendations to remove the barriers faced by trafficked fishermen in accessing legal and economic justice and protection.

Some of these recommendations are for the governments in all concerned jurisdictions to consider, while others are for the specific attention of the Singaporean and Philippines government and authorities.

These recommendations cover the three key areas outlined below:

  • Victim identification,
  • Provision of psycho-social needs for trafficked fishermen when they exit trafficked situation and during criminal proceedings,
  • Prosecution of guilty parties.

The detailed recommendations is appendixed in the TWC2 report and the full report of the Diluted Justice in pdf format, including the recommendations, is posted here.

In 2012 TOC has reported the death of a trafficking victim from the Philippines, who had signed an employment contract with a Singapore firm called Step Up Marine Enterprise, to work on board the Taiwanese vessel. Ms Shelley Thio, at that time a volunteer with TWC2, had also worked on that case.


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments