By Nelson A. King
CMC Contributing Writer
WASHINGTON, D.C. July 1, 2017 (CMC) – Even with a change in administration, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries continue to be assailed by the United States government for trafficking in persons.
In the US Trafficking in Person (TIP) Report 2017, released here, earlier this week, by the US Department of State, the new Trump administration ripped most CARICOM countries for not doing enough in bringing themselves in compliance with combating trafficking in persons.
Though Belize – placed on Tier 3 – was the only CARICOM member state, whose government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for trafficking in persons and is not making significant efforts to do so, other regional countries were placed on the US’ Tier 2 Watch List, and Tier 2 and Tier 1 lists.
The State Department placed Antigua and Barbuda, Haiti and Suriname on Tier 2 Watch List, because their governments “do not fully comply with the TVPA’s (Trafficking Victims Protection Act) minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards, and the absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing”.
Under Tier 2 Watch List, the State Department also said “there is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year; or the determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with minimum standards, was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year”.
Countries whose governments simply do not fully comply with the minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards, are placed on Tier 2.
The State Department placed Barbados, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago in this category.
The Bahamas and Guyana showed marked improvement in trafficking in persons, according to the State Department “(TVPA) minimum standards.”
The State Department was unequivocal that the government of Belize “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so”.
But, despite the lack of significant efforts, the department said Belize took some steps to address trafficking, including the identification of two trafficking victims; and the investigations of 10 trafficking cases and two continued prosecutions initiated in a previous year.
“However, the government did not begin any new prosecutions or convict any traffickers. The government did not investigate or prosecute any public officials for alleged complicity in human trafficking-related offenses, despite reports of a significant level of official complicity.
“Despite the government’s raids on commercial sex establishments, few trafficking crimes were uncovered, due to limited intelligence-gathering, inconsistent application of formal victim identification procedures, and suspected complicity among some law enforcement officials,” it added.
The report, therefore, recommended that the Dean Barrow administration “consistently implement formal procedures to identify and refer to care victims of sex and labour trafficking among vulnerable groups, and involve Spanish-speaking social workers, NGOs (non-governmental organizations), or victim advocates in the process to ensure trafficking victims are not penalized for crimes committed as a direct result of trafficking”.
The US also wants Belize to amend laws to ensure penalties are commensurate with those prescribed for rape or kidnapping; and develop and implement a targeted campaign to raise awareness among clients of Belize’s legal sex trade, about the links between prostitution and trafficking.
The State Department said Antigua and Barbuda demonstrated significant efforts during the reporting period, by initiating the prosecution of a trafficking case, revising its national action plan, training relevant government personnel, increasing funding for anti-trafficking efforts, and providing some assistance to victims.
However, it said the Gaston Browne administration “did not demonstrate increasing efforts, compared to the previous reporting period”.
“The government did not report significant law enforcement efforts, reported fewer victims identified and fewer investigations of suspected cases, and continued to issue administrative penalties for suspected complicit police officers, rather than charging them with crimes.
“The government has never reported any trafficking convictions. The government did not allocate sufficient funding, services, and human resources for victim needs, law enforcement and prosecutions, and public awareness campaigns,” the report added.
The report also said that the Antigua government “suffered from a lack of coordination and cohesion in its efforts to combat trafficking, due to personnel rotations at the working and ministerial levels, and the lack of a dedicated office or personnel for anti-trafficking efforts”.
“Because the government has devoted sufficient resources to a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute significant efforts to meet the minimum standards, Antigua and Barbuda was granted a waiver per the Trafficking Victims Protection Act from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3,” the report continued.
Therefore, it said Antigua and Barbuda remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the fourth consecutive year.
In making “key achievements during the reporting period,” Haiti was upgraded to the Tier 2 Watch List.
The State Department said these achievements included strengthening partnerships between the government’s inter-ministerial anti-trafficking commission (TIP Commission) and international organizations; increasing investigations and prosecutions, and obtaining the first three convictions under the 2014 anti-trafficking law.
The achievements also included creating a post-Hurricane Matthew emergency working group to address human trafficking, providing training to government officials in the three most affected departments, and opening a temporary national 24-hour hotline for trafficking victims; and committing resources for the work of the TIP Commission.
But, despite these achievements, the State Department lamented that Haiti’s cabinet ministers and key government ministries did not prioritize anti-trafficking efforts in Haiti; and the justice system lagged behind in prosecuting cases, “which impaired efforts to prosecute traffickers and protect victims”.
Since Suriname made “significant efforts” in meeting the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons, the report said the country was upgraded to Tier 2 Watch List.
It said these achievements included establishing a “dedicated shelter” for women and girl trafficking victims and increasing the number of trafficking convictions.
“Despite these achievements the number of investigations, prosecutions, and victims identified decreased, and courts did not impose sufficiently stringent sentences on convicted traffickers,” the report said, urging Suriname to, among other things, “vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and convict and punish traffickers, with sufficiently stringent sentences”.
But despite making significant efforts in meeting the minimum standards for eliminating trafficking in persons, Barbados remained on Tier 2.
The State Department noted that Bridgetown “demonstrated increasing efforts” by creating a new anti-trafficking law, which includes stringent penalties commensurate with other serious crimes and allows for victim restitution.
The government also increased training for officers in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade and employees in the hotel and tourism industries.
Still, the report said the Freundel Stuart administration did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.
For example, it said the Barbadian government did not initiate new prosecutions, had difficulty obtaining victim cooperation to prosecute traffickers, did not provide adequate resources to government agencies or relevant NGOs for training or furthering anti-trafficking efforts, and did not provide sufficient resources for victim care.
The State Department would, therefore, like the administration to provide adequate funding to train law enforcement and prosecutors in “proactively identifying, obtaining, preserving, and corroborating evidence to reduce dependence on victim testimony”.
While respecting due process, the department also wants Barbados to “investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including complicit officials, and apply stringent sentences that deter future trafficking crimes”.
On Jamaica, the report said the government “demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period.”
It pointed out that the Andrew Holness administration secured two convictions, prosecuted nine trafficking cases against 13 alleged traffickers, and investigated 40 potential new trafficking cases.
The government also developed a new victim protection protocol for health, labor and child welfare officials, identified eight trafficking victims who were provided government shelter and services, and increased awareness-raising efforts.
But the State Department bemoaned that the government failed to “hold complicit officials accountable, and did not publish a standard victim protection protocol, or publish an annual report monitoring its efforts”.
St. Lucia also demonstrated “increasing efforts” compared to the previous reporting period, by, among other things, investigating three cases of potential trafficking, approving a national action plan for anti-trafficking efforts and providing assistance and restitution to victims in a labour trafficking case.
But the report said the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.
For example, it said the Allen Chastanet government did not approve or implement standard operating procedures for victim identification and referral, nor did the government initiate new trafficking prosecutions.
Like its Tier 2 counterparts, St. Vincent and the Grenadines “demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period,” warranting an upgrade to that tier.
The State Department said the Dr. Ralph Gonsalves government “demonstrated increasing efforts” by providing assistance to trafficking victims; increasing anti-trafficking training to relevant government officials and NGOs; improving public awareness campaigns; and conducting a baseline assessment of its overall efforts in order to provide recommendations for improvement.
But all that was still insufficient for the US Government, stating that Kingstown “did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. There remained deficiencies in its national action plan, investigations and victim care,” it said.
“The guidelines for the referral of victims continued to lack the necessary details to make them effective. The government needed more specialized services for victims of human trafficking.”
With an upgrade to Tier 2, the State Department said the government of Trinidad and Tobago also showed “increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period,” by adopting and beginning to implement a new national action plan for 2016-2020, advancing prosecutions to the high court, addressing inefficiencies in the judicial system and identifying more victims.
The Dr. Keith Rowley administration also changed immigration procedures to increase accountability and minimize the opportunities for immigration officials to receive bribes.
But the report said the government is yet to secure a conviction under its anti-trafficking law, adding that Port-of-Spain also decreased funding for its anti-trafficking unit and victim care.
In addition, the report said victims were not provided specialized services, including during legal proceedings, and the government did not have policies or laws regulating foreign labour recruiters.
Additionally, the report said the government did not have any basis for holding foreign labour recruiters “civilly and criminally liable for fraudulent recruitment”.
By remaining on Tier 1, the State Department said the government of the Bahamas “continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period”.
“The government demonstrated serious and sustained efforts through strong collaboration across multiple government agencies, facilitating the prosecution of traffickers and protection of victims,” said the report, stating that the Bahamian government initiated 11 new labour and sex trafficking investigations, screened 37 potential trafficking victims, identified five victims and initiated one new prosecution.
The State Department also said that the Bahamas increased funding for victim assistance and expanded procedures to include identification and interviewing guidelines to cover labour trafficking victims.
But the report said while the government met the minimum standards, “it did not obtain any convictions during the reporting period”.
In making “key achievements” in the reporting period, the State Department upgraded Guyana to Tier 1, pointing out that the achievements included approving the 2017-2018 national action plan for combating trafficking in persons; increasing the number of investigations, prosecutions, and convictions; and identifying and assisting more victims for the second year in a row.
But while meeting the minimum standards, the report said the Guyana government did not increase protection and services for victims outside the capital, Georgetown, or provide adequate protection and shelter for child and male victims.