Palau’s Senate Judiciary and Government Affairs Committee held an oversight hearing on the Ministry of Justice last week. At that time, patient Palau’s Attorney General, thumb Victoria Roe, view presented to the Committee the US Department of State “Trafficking In Persons Report” which classifies Palau as a Tier 2 country. This report is significant because if Palau becomes a Tier 3, country Palau would lose its US federal grants.
Freshman Senators Sengebau-Senior, Inabo and Senate Vice President Reklai attended the hearing and questioned AG Roe was as if she was somehow responsible for the report and its contents. There was also a suggestion that that she failed to defend Palau and challenge the report.
The fact is that AG Roe had nothing to do with the US government’s report, in fact, she was given a copy of the report by the United States Embassy in Palau. She was only the messenger presenting it to the Senate in order to educate the leaders on what the report meant and how her efforts were helping Palau become a Tier 1 country.
Members of the House of Delegates also expressed criticism against the Attorney General for the release of what they considered a “slanderous and unsubstantiated report” that damages Palau’s honor and dignity.
Again, Palau’s Congress fails to realize that “Trafficking in Persons” report was generated by the Department of State in Washington DC, specifically by the “Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.” That office has 52 staff members with an operating budget of $4.5 million. It does not rely on Palau’s AG office for information.
The Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report includes 187 countries. The TIP report has been coming out annually for nearly 10 years. In the 2013 Report, Palau was listed as a Tier 2 country, which means Palau is not complying with minimum standards of eliminating trafficking. Palau has been ranked as a Tier 2 country since 2009.
Since AG Roe’s appointment she has successfully filed two major human trafficking and prostitution cases in an effort to bring Palau’s status from tier 2 up to tier 1. These prosecutions have involved important businessmen and government officials. The debate in the legislature sparks questions as to whether these hearings are a disguised effort to punish the AG for these prosecutions.
Normally investigating government officials would be the job of the Special Prosecutor; however, since no prosecutor has been appointed for several years the task falls to the AG’s office.
The House of Delegates called for another hearing with the Ministry of Justice and AG Roe and have invited the Council of Chiefs, the President of the Bar Association, and the media. Insiders indicate that this hearing is part of an effort to have the AG terminated for exposing high-level involvement in human trafficking in Palau.
The outcome of the hearing will determine whether Palau supports the AG’s office in their efforts to combat human trafficking or whether they will thwart such prosecutions. The hearing will take place on Wednesday January 29, 2014 at 1p in the old OEK and is open to the public.
LETTER FROM AG TO OEK – January 28, 2014