The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) is consulting national stakeholders on how a Bill on curtailing human trafficking can be improved, targeting, among other deterrent measures, to severely punish individuals and organisations that facilitate the crime.
Three Rwandan EALA members; Valerie Nyirahabineza, Martin Ngoga and Christophe Bazivamo, yesterday, met experts from local institutions during a public hearing in Kigali to listen to their views on how the EAC Counter-Trafficking in Persons Bill can be enriched.
Nyirahabineza, who chaired the sub-committee, said the main cause of the evil – human trafficking – is commercial sex activities, need for cheap or free labour and the illegal use of human organs.
“EAC partner states are affected. It is imperative for the EAC to cooperate in the fight against trafficking in persons by having adequate policies and laws that will help us to work together in a coordinated manner,” she said.
Ngoga said the private member’s Bill, introduced by Uganda’s Dora Byamukama, last month, is meant to tackle a problem that is cross-border in nature.
He said they were ready to “do more of listening than lecturing” and be advised on how to enrich the Bill.
“Once we pass legislation, at the level of the East African Community, it becomes superior to national legislations. We try to avoid a situation whereby our regional legislations are in conflict with international legislations,” Ngoga said.
“But that should not be an issue for you [local stakeholders]; where you think there are deficits in your national legislations, this is a platform where you can correct those deficits because the law of the EAC is enforceable in national courts,” Ngoga added.
According to Faustin Nkusi, spokesperson of the National Public Prosecution Authority (NPPA), EAC partner states need to harmonise laws on human trafficking, put in place special laws tackling the crime, and cooperate in fighting and punish the suspects.
Nkusi told The New Times that countries also need to “improve the quality of investigation by training judicial investigators and prosecutors, and if possible put in place special units that deal with the matter.”
“Cooperation among member states is a key issue,” added Nkusi.
The objective of the Bill is to provide for a legal framework for prevention of human trafficking, prosecution of traffickers, and development of partnerships for cooperation to counter related crimes in the Community.
Article 18 of the Bill partly states that prosecution of the offence of trafficking in persons and related offences shall be executed in accordance with the laws in respective partner states.
Section three of the Clause adds that such offences, in the EAC, will be punishable by a minimum of 10 years imprisonment.
Frank Asiimwe, a legal expert from Future for African Actions on Sustainable Initiatives, a local NGO, said it is imperative to draw lessons from best practices in Rwanda, including efforts to curtail the crime through the Immigration and Emigraton Directorate.
Asiimwe said it would be “very great to form a country task-force” to work with the lawmakers.
Beata Mukeshimana, head of research at Rwanda Law Reform Commission, said consideration needs to be given to witness protection.
Ngoga said: “For Rwanda, this exercise comes at a unique time because you are discussing this when you are in the process of reviewing the laws.”
Experts from several public institutions, including the Ministries of Justice, Foreign Affairs, and EAC Affairs, and the Law Reform Commission, agreed to write down and send their views to EALA for consideration.