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Keynote Address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, The Hon JH Jeffery, MP, at a SADC Regional Prosecutors Meeting, hosted by the UNODC, held at Emperors Palace, Kempton Park, 22 March 2022

Programme Director,
Esteemed representatives of the European Union, of the UNODC and of SADC,
Distinguished guests and friends,
It is great pleasure for me to welcome you all here this morning and to our guests visiting from other countries may I say – Welcome to South Africa, karibu or in my best attempt in Portuguese “Bom dia e bem-vindo à África do Sul.”

It really is encouraging and with a sense of gratitude to be able to see so many attendees from across the whole of the SADC region – in particular, because the last two years, many of us have only been able to meet virtually.

Trafficking in persons is real. No country is spared from it.

The UNODC’s 2020 Global Report states that children represent the majority of victims detected in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially in West Africa. Southern African and East African countries tend to detect more adults than children. The majority of detected victims in Sub-Saharan Africa are trafficked for the purpose of forced labour.

It also states that trafficking flows out of Sub-Saharan Africa have a global dimension, with victims detected in Western and Southern Europe, in North Africa and in the Middle East. Victims from Sub-Saharan countries are also detected in North America and East Asia. As a destination of trafficking flows, most of the victims detected in this sub-region are trafficked within their own countries or across the border from neighbouring countries.

Programme Director,
All SADC member states acknowledge that they are affected by TIP as source, transit and destination countries for victims of trafficking. This is demonstrated by the fact that most SADC member states are parties to the Palermo Protocol and are taking domestic measures to implement their international obligations in this regard and/or have specific legislation to prevent and combat TIP.

If one looks at the bigger picture of organised crime, as a whole, it is also important to highlight the work being done by SADC on a comprehensive strategy to identify, understand and combat transnational organised crime in the region, such as growing cross-border threats including the smuggling of weapons, drugs and wildlife, as well as human trafficking.

Related transnational crimes such as illicit financial flows and terrorism are also on the rise.
As the Institute for Security Studies mentions, given the link between these offences and the role that organised crime networks play, a single wide-ranging strategy is needed. After an INTERPOL assessment of organised crime in Southern Africa in 2018, the Southern African Regional Police Chiefs Cooperation Organisation recommended that the SADC Secretariat and INTERPOL develop a regional crime-combatting plan.

When it comes to trafficking in persons, in particular, one of the UNODC documents correctly states that TIP can seem a daunting crime to investigate, as it often involves, and I quote, the “cruel subjugation of the human spirit. It can profoundly damage its victims. It may cover huge geographic distances, including across international borders.”

We see this regularly, for example, in December last year, when 33 alleged Ethiopian human trafficking victims were rescued in Midrand – not too far from here - by the Johannesburg Metro Police.
According to reports earlier on the same day about 65 victims had allegedly been sold to business owners for R17,000 per person before the police arrived.

Because the victims had not eaten in days, the police officers put money together and bought them food.
Like every aspect of our daily lives, Covid-19 has had a very real impact on our efforts to prevent and combat trafficking in persons. I’m sure that that has been the case across the region as it has all over the world.
Victims are targeted when they are vulnerable - and the Covid-19 pandemic and accompanying economic recession has resulted in more people being at risk of trafficking.

South Africa has also experienced that as poverty increases, vulnerability and desperation increase.
Victims of trafficking often perceive the trafficker as their only hope of survival, especially with labour trafficking and despite receiving measly wages for long working hours.

The Covid-19 pandemic has created new risks and challenges to victims and survivors of trafficking. It has also worsened the vulnerabilities of at-risk groups, especially women and children, to trafficking.
In many sex trafficking cases, the victims have substance abuse disorders, very often as a result of the actions of the trafficker.

Our experience further tells us that Covid-19 has undoubtedly had an effect on anti-TIP efforts, for example during the hard lockdown, fewer complaints involving sexual exploitation were reported to the South African Police Services - however more tip-offs were received pertaining to labour exploitation.

Just by way of background, anti-trafficking efforts and support to victims of trafficking are the responsibility of a number of different government departments, with my Department – the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development – being the one tasked with the overall coordination and monitoring thereof in terms of the TIP legislation.

We have tried, as far as humanly possible over the last two years, to adapt to the “new normal” and law enforcement agencies and the courts continued to process cases.

The increased use of audio-visual links to continue to hear cases in courts was emphasized. Appearances and hearings were as far as possible done through audio-visual links.

In order to minimize the spread of Covid-19, the number of persons entering a courtroom, courthouse or justice service points were limited based on the floor space of the courtroom, courthouse or justice service point concerned to ensure compliance with the requirements relating to physical distancing.

Court staff and other stakeholders such as the National Prosecuting Authority’s staff were working on a rotational basis, depending on the particular alert level of South Africa at the time. In some instances courtrooms and court buildings had to be closed for decontamination and cleaning purposes. PPE was also made available to officials and presiding officers in the courts and in the criminal justice chain.

Matters were prioritized on the basis of the following considerations -
 Prioritization of part heard cases;
 Prioritization of cases involving the accused in custody, provided that they are trial-ready and in particular, the defense and the State confirm that full consultations have taken place; and
 Unless it is absolutely unavoidable, cases involving vulnerable witnesses and small children requiring close contact or intimate intermediary assistance and older people and generally those which cannot be dealt with without compromising the social distancing rules and the health and safety of court officials and users may be considered for postponement in order to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

It is also important to highlight that throughout the lockdown shelters continued to admit and screen all victims of trafficking, or VoTs.

However, the number of suspected VoTs among the new admissions dropped drastically during the lockdown.
The Department of Social Development set up a total of 163 shelters for the homeless from the start of the lockdown in March 2020. These housed a total of 14 309 homeless people. The pandemic necessitated a diversion of resources from a number of programmes including counter trafficking.

Some services had to be scaled down (such as e.g. outreach programmes), but all other services continued with personnel operating as usual, particularly in shelters. Social workers and care workers were regarded as essential services and therefore could continue to work.

Twenty shelters were funded for the provision of accommodation and services to victims of gender based violence and these continued to receive support from the Department, including two that are accredited for services to victims of human trafficking. Social work services were provided to victims regardless of the pandemic and shelters remained open to accommodate victims.

The newly established shelters for the homeless were also used to screen admissions and some homeless people were reunited with their families.

Virtual training sessions were held by the IOM but these could only reach officials who had access to connectivity and the necessary equipment such as laptops, tablets and iPads.

With regards to ports of entry, Covid-19 has impacted on the operations as it led to limitation in migratory movement and stringent health requirements at the ports of entry as a way to contain the rapid rise in infections.

Measures placed at ports of entry (where other ports had to be closed) resulted that trafficking activities were crippled as there were increased patrols along the borderline.

With regards to the workplace environment, the Department of Employment and Labour had joint operations with other stakeholders focusing on, for example, the road freight sector, farming and agricultural community

monitoring forced labour; and monitoring and preventing child labour and ensuring compliance with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA).

Focussing on the criminal justice system, the rights and needs of vulnerable victims of crime were advanced through initiatives such as the Thuthuzela Care Centres (TCCs) and our Court Preparation Programme. The Court Preparation Officers within the National Prosecuting Service play a pivotal role in the NPA adopting a more victim-centric approach.

Apart from testimony, victims are provided the opportunity to contribute at sentencing through Victim Impact Statements, and, where appropriate to resolve a matter through ADRM. Central to this approach are the court preparation officers who not only attend to the needs of crime victims, but also ensure that they are given a larger role in the process of achieving justice.

The purpose of the NPA’s Ke Bona Lesedi Court Preparation component is to prepare victims (witnesses and their family) for testimony. They work with vulnerable individuals and the process is prosecutor-guided. Court support workers from the community must apply to the NPA to be accredited in order to provide court preparation services for victims.

The Department of Social Development is also developing Directives to guide all counter-TIP service providers and law enforcement officials on effectively dealing with victims of trafficking to avoid re-traumatization or secondary victimization. These guidelines for psychosocial service providers are centred round Trauma Informed Care. Anecdotal evidence shows that majority of the adult VoTs have had adverse childhood experiences and Trauma Informed Care seem to be the most appropriate approach in addressing their trauma of being trafficked.

During the interview process, the interviewing member will assess the status of the victim in that (1) the victim is willing to be managed as a witness, (2) wants to give information to assist law enforcement with the purpose to address the alleged traffickers/accomplices but not be managed as a witness or (3) does not want to give information and does not want to be managed as a witness.

Thus a victim will be afforded the opportunity to choose whether or not to speak to law enforcement, and/or be referred to other government departments (social workers from DSD or an accredited NGO, members attached to their embassies in the case of a foreign national, or a faith based organisation of their choice).

With regards to convictions and sentences, as mentioned in South Africa’s Trafficking in Person Report for 2022 which we submitted to the US Department of State in January, we had eight matters which lead to convictions.

These were accompanied by significant sentences, which included, amongst others, 13 sentences of life imprisonment, one of 45 years and one of 20 years imprisonment. This sends a clear message that those guilty of human trafficking will face the full might of the law.

To conclude, I want to wish you all a very productive and informative three days.
TIP is a daunting crime to prosecute – it is often a hidden crime and a crime which does not stop at the borders of a country.

Inter-regional cooperation is vital when we deal with any form of transnational crime.
If we want to eradicate human trafficking in our region and ensure that we provide much needed support to victims of trafficking, it is vital that we work together and share best practices and expertise. It is possible to make significant inroads in the fight against TIP by working together.

i thank you.