Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Guyana still to convict human traffickers - U.S. report

Kaieteur News news item, Wednesday 17 June 2009

Guyana still to convict human traffickers - U.S. report

June 17, 2009 | By knews | Filed Under News

Although the Guyana Government enhanced its assistance to victims, augmented training for law enforcement officials, and initiated a nationwide network of community focal points for victim identification and criminal investigations, the government has not yet convicted and punished any trafficking offenders under its 2005 anti trafficking law.
As it relates to Prosecution, the government made negligible law-enforcement progress against human trafficking over the last year.
“The Combating Trafficking of Persons Act of 2005 prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes sufficiently stringent penalties, ranging from three years’ to life imprisonment, commensurate with those for rape and other grave crimes.”
These comments are contained in the United States State Department’s recent report on Trafficking in Persons which saw Guyana being listed on the Tier 2 of its watch list. The report was released yesterday.
According to the report, Guyana is a source country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labour.
It was noted that Guyanese trafficking victims have been identified within the country, as well as in Barbados, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, and Suriname.
The report noted that the majority of victims are trafficked internally for sexual and labour exploitation in the more heavily populated coastal areas and in the remote areas of the country’s interior.
“Women and girls are lured with offers of well-paying jobs, and are subsequently exploited and controlled through threats, withholding of pay or insufficient pay, and physical violence…
“In coastal areas, traffickers promise rural women and girls jobs as domestic servants, then coerce them into working in shops or homes for little or no pay, or sell them to brothels. Many trafficking victims along the coast are Amerindian teenagers, targeted by traffickers because of poor education and job prospects in their home regions…Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese girls, however, have also been trafficked for commercial sex and labour.”
Guyanese men are trafficked transnationally for forced labour in construction and other sectors in Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, the report added.
According to the US report, the government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.
The US alludes that despite these overall efforts, the government did not show evidence of progress in prosecuting and punishing acts of trafficking warranting Guyana being placed on Tier 2 Watch List.
The US recommended that Guyana vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking offences, and seek convictions and punishment of trafficking offenders; proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations such as women and children in prostitution; protect trafficking victims throughout the process of criminal investigations and prosecutions; assign more judges and court personnel to handle trafficking cases in the country’s interior regions; and expand anti-trafficking training for police and magistrates.
In 2008, trafficking investigations increased from six in 2007, to eight. One prosecution was initiated last year, and the one case opened in 2007 continued throughout 2008.
According to the US report, legal cases against alleged trafficking offenders usually did not progress through the trial phase, as charges against most suspects are dropped prior to or during prosecution.
“In 2008, magistrates continued to dismiss charges in trafficking cases, usually citing a lack of evidence or failure of the witness to appear for testimony.”
The report noted that in October 2008, a judge dismissed the charges against a woman arrested in September 2006 for subjecting a 15-year-old girl to commercial sexual exploitation, claiming the police “had not done proper investigations” in the intervening two years.
It was also alluded to that Judicial proceedings are regularly delayed by shortages of trained court personnel and magistrates, postponements, and the slowness of the Guyanese police in preparing cases for trial.
“The Guyanese police in 2008 instituted a mandatory full-day training session on human trafficking for senior and mid-level investigative officers.”
It was pointed out though that as it relates to protection, the Government of Guyana made significant efforts to assist victims during the reporting period.
According to the report, the government did not operate shelters for trafficking victims, but doubled its funding to an NGO that provided shelter, counseling, and medical assistance to victims of domestic violence; the shelter was also accessible to victims of trafficking, though no trafficking victims sought assistance from the shelter in 2008.
NGOs working directly with trafficking victims report that although the government offers a number of useful services to victims, the system by which it provides these services does not function as effectively as it should.
The government provided travel funds to facilitate the return to Guyana of Guyanese trafficking victims from other countries; it also provided vocational training, financial assistance, and medical attention to these victims to assist with their reintegration.
The government did not support victim services outside the capital, and those services remained inadequate.
The US report also pointed out that Guyana’s laws generally respected the rights of trafficking victims, and although the law did not provide legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they face hardship or retribution, no cases of such removals were reported in 2008.
“There were no reports of victims being penalised for crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked during the year…Guyanese authorities encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers, and paid for all costs associated with travel from a victim’s home to the location of a hearing or trial, including transportation, meals, and lodging….Nonetheless, some victims chose not to testify due to the travel distance and time involved, long delays in the judicial system, or their fear of reprisal from traffickers.”
The report noted that in June 2008, the multi agency task force on trafficking in persons was established with focal points in communities around the country to help identify and refer possible trafficking victims to assistance organizations, as well as to help with investigations and raise public awareness.
In April during the Summit of Americas, Head of State Bharrat Jagdeo had stated that Guyana is a victim of unfair representation by certain international agencies.
President Jagdeo said that Guyana is inexplicably listed as being among the worst for human trafficking.
He said that for a country to be so listed there should be at least 100 documented cases.
“We got on the worst category—Category three—and we ran the risk of sanctions. We asked, ‘How did we get there?’ And until today I can’t get more than three documented cases that they have. They are not willing to admit that they made a mistake.”
“My country has, right around the world, been characterized as a country that deals with the worst case of trafficking in persons. It is a nightmare to try to reverse it once you get painted with that brush…Often it is about the quality of the report that goes up from the field offices,” Jagdeo stated.

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