A legislative committee has approved unanimously and sent to the full Asamblea a wide-ranging measure to penalize trafficking in persons.
Although the measure does not define the term, a strict interpretation would seem to assess criminal penalties against airline pilots who fly planes carrying prostitutes into Costa Rica and even taxi drivers who may drop off a prostitute for a working visit.
The measure also creates several levels of extensive bureaucracies, including an institute against trafficking in persons within the security ministry, and then would assess an additional $1 on those leaving the country by air to pay for this.
The measure also cloaks in secrecy all judicial and administrative activities connected with trafficking in persons cases and even prohibits the news media and social networks from writing about the presumed victims, their families and other identifying details. Despite what appears to be secret trials, those convicted of trafficking crimes face stiff prison terms. A change within the bill of the existing penal code, would seem to make those who violate this censorship open to four to eight years in prison.
The measure also requires the news media, both print and electronic, to provide free space or air time to what is called the Coalición Nacional Contra el Tráfico Ilícito de Migrantes y Trata de Personas.
In addition, anyone who produces programs, campaigns or advertising in any type of media to label the country as a sex tourism destination would face a four- to eight-year prison term. Also penalized is renting facilities where prostitution would be practiced.
Nowhere in the measure is a distinction drawn between forced prostitution and voluntary prostitution, which is not illegal in Costa Rica. Consequently, the measure would penalize persons who provide transport for someone involved in an activity that is not illegal.
Lawmakers have had plenty of time to consider the measure, No. 17.594. The bill was presented originally in November 2009. A new draft was presented March 1 and a final vote came Thursday. The committee was Comisión Permanente Especial de Seguridad y Narcotráfico. The bill is in the legislature now with support from the executive branch because the president controls the legislative agenda until May 1, according to the Costa Rican Constitution.
The broad measure also increases the penalties for coyotes who move illegal immigrants across the border and penalized those who would become involved in the illegal extraction of human organs.
The measure clearly is an effort to appease the United States, whose State Department usually lists Costa Rica as below par in fighting human trafficking. The last State Department report last June cited lack of convictions in trafficking cases, but the embassy staff who put the detailed document together never mentioned that prostitution was not illegal here.
The proposed law provides many benefits for trafficking victims, including living quarters, temporary residency, immunity from prosecution for any crimes they may have committed and even travel home for foreigners who wish it.
The proposed law also would allow such victims to send a representative instead of appearing at judicial or administrative hearings.
The anti-trafficking commission would be within the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública and be in charge of drawing up and monitoring what is called a national plan against trafficking.
The commission would contain representatives from 22 government agencies from the executive, judicial and legislative branches.
The measure also has stiffer penalties for crimes involving minors and the disabled. The measure also treats forced pregnancies, abductions and crimes by professionals.