Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Guyana will not prosecute people for TIP just to satisfy US – Minister Manickchand

Guyana Chronicle top story, Wednesday 17 June 2009

Guyana will not prosecute people for TIP just to satisfy US – Minister Manickchand

Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Priya Manickchand, has lashed out at the United States of America’s rating of Guyana for its Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report by the US State Department which places Guyana on the Tier 2 watch list.

“Guyana objects completely to being placed on the Tier 2 watch list...we do not believe that we have trafficking on the scale that should attract the attention of the U.S., the report is inaccurate in some of its assertions: it did not give us (government) credit for all that has been done,” she stated.

At the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, President Bharrat Jagdeo had met with United States President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when he addressed the issue of the US TIP rating of Guyana.

The President had said that despite not having even three documented cases of TIP, Guyana was placed on the Tier 2 rank when it takes 100 documented cases for countries to gain US attention and be placed on this rank. After this discussion, President Jagdeo related that the US President asked Secretary of State Clinton to look into this matter.

The Government of Guyana has recognised that TIP is a crime and an inhumane activity; as such it has passed legislation which is comprehensive and holistic, the Minister said.

However, she added that while the US report states that Guyana has made “significant efforts and much progress in these departments”, it claims that in the area of prosecution and conviction the process is not satisfactory.

“We prosecute every person who can be prosecuted under the Act, who would have committed acts of trafficking; what we do not have is a large number of convictions. We cannot dictate what the Courts do, we do recognise that there are some weaknesses in the entire Judicial System in terms of how long matters take to pass through the system; and in that regard, the government is at present engaged in improving the entire Justice System through the Justice Sector Reform Strategy,” she explained.

This strategy is a large investment which, when completed, is expected to provide great improvements. It deals with the entire judiciary to see how quickly matters can be dealt with, how effective the entire system is, and how user friendly it is.

Several initiatives have been undertaken by Government to combat this crime to ensure that it does not become acceptable in Guyana’s society. These include:

* the TIP Unit, established shortly after the enactment of the TIP Act in 2005, held several seminars during 2007 to heighten public awareness of the issue and ways of recognizing and preventing it

* the Ministerial Task Force on TIP conducts reports and presents them to the Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee, and these are used to review the work that Guyana has been doing in relation to this crime

* the Task Force also operates as an oversight to the TIP unit, and comprises representatives of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Human Services and Social Security and Home Affairs, the Guyana Police Force, Food for the Poor, Help and Shelter and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs)

* Government is currently engaged in working with the justice administration to address having cases of TIP heard separately and outside of the “regular” legislation, which states that the case must be addressed in the district that the crime was committed

* to ensure that there is effective prosecution, Government has hired private prosecutors who are very experienced in dealing with such cases

* in 2008, Government trained over 100 focal point persons who are located in eight of the 10 regions of Guyana.

“The report recognises all of this as in terms of prevention and protection, and addressing issues of trafficking. We have progressed and all these significant steps have been made to address trafficking. “The one problem that the report has with us seems to be that we have not churned out these massive convictions, we haven’t convicted hundreds of persons and that is because we do not have hundreds of persons to convict; and to do this would mean that we have to manufacture charges to satisfy statistics; and Guyana will not be manufacturing charges against our citizens so that we can satisfy some US statistics that we should not even be on,” she declared.

Minister Manickchand added, “We, on the part of the government, are doing all that we can do. The report is very comprehensive in recognising all the various moves that we have made to prevent TIP, to protect victims, to make persons aware of the circumstances; so we do not warrant a placement on the Tier 2 watch list, because we don’t have trafficking in numbers that are considered significant… so our placement on Tier 2 is puzzling, especially since the report itself can be considered contradictory.”

Addressing the issue of prosecution and conviction which the report recognises as its main reason for placing Guyana on Tier 2, Minister Manickchand reiterated that Government will prosecute anyone found committing this crime and measures have been put in place to make people more aware of the ways of reporting it. She noted that all of these reports are recognised by the US. `

“We will continue as a government to address weaknesses in prosecution and conviction; not only of matters relating to trafficking, but our entire judicial system; we will continue to make persons aware of the harmful effects and consequences of trafficking and how it can be prevented, and where help can be received and how persons can access the services that we have; because we believe that one trafficking case is one too many; but we reject completely the US judgment of us that places us on the Tier 2 watch list,” she said. (GINA)

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