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OP-ED: Trafficking in Persons by US Ambassador to Guyana, Brendt Hardt

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released the 2012 United States Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report June 19 reviewing the efforts of 186 countries to combat the scourge of modern day slavery.  This year’s report, entitled “the Promise of Freedom,” calls on every government, including the United States, to commit itself to fulfilling the promise of freedom from slavery.

Some may ask why the United States prepares such a report on other countries. Our goal is not to criticize others, but to call attention to a global threat to vulnerable groups of people in order to stimulate global action to protect victims, prevent future abuses, and investigate and prosecute perpetrators of this modern-day slavery.

Because of concerted international action called for in the “Palermo Protocol” to United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and in the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act, this quest for freedom is now embodied in modern anti-trafficking laws and international protocols that punish traffickers while providing services and legal recourse to victims.  Thanks to the actions of governments, civil society organizations, and courageous individuals, the tide is turning.  In releasing the report, Secretary Clinton also honored this year’s “TIP Heroes,” men and women whose personal efforts have made an extraordinary difference in the global fight against modern slavery.  You can read their stories in the TIP report, which can be found on-line at www.state.gov/j/tip).

Over the past year, the United States Embassy in Georgetown and the Government of Guyana have forged an active and productive dialogue on Trafficking in Persons aimed at strengthening Guyana’s ability to prosecute offenders, protect victims, and prevent future cases of TIP.  Our senior officials held a digital video conference to align perspectives and chart closer cooperation.  We also worked together to hold a workshop on TIP identification, investigation, and prosecution for over thirty government and civil society representatives.  This dialogue and engagement clearly reflects the commitment of the government and people of Guyana to work in partnership to address this global threat to the dignity of children, women, and men.

This year’s report observes that Guyana is both a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Guyanese nationals have been subjected to human trafficking in Guyana and in other countries in the Caribbean region, often involving women and girls in forced prostitution, but also potentially involving the use of child labor within the mining industry, agriculture, and forestry sectors.

While the report concludes that Guyana does not yet fully meet the minimum international standards for the elimination of trafficking as set forth in the UN’s Palermo Protocol, it recognizes that the country is making significant efforts to do so.  It highlights the government’s enhanced efforts to identify, assist, and protect victims of trafficking during the reporting period, noting that these efforts helped identify and assist an increased number of sex trafficking victims during the reporting period.

The report also points out that there were no prosecutions of trafficking offenders and no substantial progress on previously initiated prosecutions.  This highlights a potentially serious lack of accountability for trafficking perpetrators. 

To address these challenges, the TIP Report offers several constructive recommendations to strengthen Guyana’s efforts to prevent and prosecute TIP:

1)  hold trafficking offenders accountable by vigorously and appropriately investigating and prosecuting forced prostitution and forced labor;

2) develop standard operating procedures to guide and encourage front line officials and NGOs in identifying and protecting victims;

3) foster a climate of open dialogue on trafficking; and

4) consider developing a working level task force to track reports and investigations.

In the spirit of transparency and partnership, the TIP Report contains a ranking and narrative of U.S. progress in addressing human trafficking.  We hope this assessment will illustrate that the United States holds itself to the same standards by which it assesses other countries and will encourage other countries to take a self-critical approach to their anti-trafficking efforts.

No country is immune from modern slavery, and both the United States and Guyana are affected with victims in our own countries and victims who are our citizens abroad.  At the end of the day, trafficking in persons is about people – our sisters and brothers, children and parents – who may be caught up in a web of injustice from which they cannot extricate themselves.  That is why the United States has sought to bring this issue to the forefront of global attention, and also why we know that the government and people of Guyana share this commitment.  Only by working together can we hope to meet this challenge and defeat the scourge of modern day slavery.