The government decreased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2016 Law No. 133, On the Fight Against Trafficking in Persons and Illicit Smuggling of Migrants, criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking; it prescribed penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. The law considered the involvement of a child or forcing a victim into “prostitution” as aggravating circumstances for which the penalties increased to 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment.
The government did not report investigating or prosecuting trafficking crimes, compared with 16 investigations and eight suspects prosecuted in three cases in 2021. For the sixth consecutive year, officials did not convict any traffickers. Analogous to previous years, most potential human trafficking crimes moved forward as migrant smuggling charges, resulting in more lenient sentences; this approach likely weakened deterrence and did not adequately address the nature of trafficking crimes. Observers reported law enforcement did not always pursue reports with potential trafficking indicators. Observers also reported prosecutors routinely dropped trafficking charges, citing a lack of political will to address the crime or denial of the existence of trafficking in Djibouti, and reclassified them as other crimes, including migrant smuggling, rape, and sexual assault. Law enforcement officials sometimes halted investigations of potential trafficking crimes after foreign national victims and witnesses left the country, rather than utilizing other means of gathering evidence to continue investigations. Similarly, prosecutors and judges did not ensure continued inclusion of foreign victims’ testimony who returned to their country of origin, often resulting in dropped cases or acquittals due to a lack of evidence. Additionally, victims often chose not to participate in court proceedings due to the protracted nature of the criminal courts and administrative process. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, potentially inhibiting law enforcement action. Observers reported that security forces, especially at lower levels, were susceptible to bribes and may have ignored trafficking crimes.
Severe resource and capacity limitations continued to impede officials’ ability to comprehensively investigate trafficking crimes. Officials reported the requirement for law enforcement to present an investigative report and evidence to the court within three days of a suspect’s arrest (two days for crimes committed in Djibouti City) continued to inhibit law enforcement’s ability to fully investigate all crimes, including trafficking, and judges often dismissed cases on procedural grounds. As in prior years, criminal courts, authorized to hear trafficking cases, only convened twice during the year. The government and NGOs continued to report the printed copy of the penal code used by some judges was out of date and did not include the 2016 anti-trafficking law; therefore, in practice, most judges did not use the 2016 anti-trafficking law to convict alleged traffickers and instead relied on older provisions from the 1995 penal code, such as kidnapping or abuse of power. The government, in partnership with the EU and an international organization, began nascent steps to update the printed copy of the penal code available to judges. Observers reported families or village elders often settled allegations of labor trafficking – including domestic servitude and potential sex trafficking crimes – informally through traditional arrangements between religious and community leaders, without recourse to the formal court system.
The Djibouti National Police (DNP) maintained a specialized unit to investigate crimes against children, including child trafficking, and an anti-vice unit mandated to investigate commercial sex establishments, including sex trafficking. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) had two prosecutors specifically trained to handle cases involving trafficking or vulnerable children. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) continued to provide training on victim identification to new police recruits during basic training. The MOJ, in partnership with international organizations, provided anti-trafficking training seminars to judges, prosecutors, clerks, and advisors at the National School for Judicial Studies (ENEJ). Additionally, the government collaborated with international organizations to train law enforcement officials, including police, prosecutors, gendarmerie, coast guard, and magistrates on human trafficking, including on the 2016 anti-trafficking law. Despite training efforts, some officials continued to conflate human trafficking with migrant smuggling and other crimes not involving sex or labor trafficking, potentially resulting in the misclassification of human trafficking crimes, and demonstrated an incomplete understanding of the irrelevance of initial consent in a human trafficking crime. The government reported nascent cooperation with the Government of Ethiopia on trafficking cases.