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Guyana escapes US punishment for doing little to combat human trafficking

The United States (US) this year opted not to punish Guyana for continuing to do little to combat trafficking of Guyanese and foreign nationals but indicates that much now depends on implementing a plan against this form of modern day slavery, according to the State Department’s global Report on Trafficking In Persons (TIP).

“Guyana was granted a waiver from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3 because its government has a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, and it has committed to devoting sufficient resources to implement that plan,” states the report.

Guyana, therefore, remains on Tier 2 Watch List for a third straight year.

If Guyana had officially slipped to Tier 3, the US could have withheld or withdrawn non-humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance or even block assistance from international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. That does not apply to humanitarian, trade-related, and certain development-related assistance.

 In addition, countries on Tier 3 may not receive funding for government employees’ participation in educational and cultural exchange programs. However,  all or part of the sanctions can be waived if the US President determines that the provision of such assistance to the government would promote the purposes of the statute or is otherwise in the United States’ national interest. TheUS’ Trafficking Victims Protection Act,  also provides for a waiver of sanctions if necessary to avoid significant adverse effects on vulnerable populations, including women and children.

With Guyana still at Tier 2, this means government has not fully complied with the US’ Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards, but is making significant efforts to do so.  That tier also means that the absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; 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.

The State Department also found that government efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers and identify and assist victims remained limited. The government provided insufficient support to nongovernmental organisations that identified and assisted a significant number of victims, according to the TIP report.

Major constraints facing Guyana in fighting human trafficking, according to the US, are limited presence by government in the interior, complicity by some police officers, corruption. The State Department said government released its anti-trafficking action plan in June 2014 but the government made uneven efforts to implement it during the reporting period.

While Guyana was found to be making significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, the US did not credit the South American country with making great strides.
“Despite these measures, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing anti-trafficking efforts compared to the previous reporting period,” he said.

The US wants Guyana to vigorously investigate and prosecute sex and labor trafficking cases and hold convicted traffickers accountable with time in prison that is commensurate with the severity of the crime; provide increased funding for NGOs to identify and assist victims; investigate, prosecute, and convict government officials complicit in trafficking; make additional efforts to enable victims to appear in court and testify against traffickers in a way that does not further endanger victims; develop child-sensitive investigation procedures and court procedures that protect the privacy of children and minimize their re-traumatization. “Government sustained some efforts to identify victims, but victim assistance remained insufficient, and the government penalized some suspected trafficking victims.  Government resources devoted to victim protection remained inadequate, and authorities did not consistently provide assistance specific to the needs of trafficking survivors,” says the report.

The US, however, wants steps to be taken to avoid punishing human trafficking victims for crimes they did not voluntarily commit. “In partnership with NGOs, develop and publicize written standard operating procedures to guide and encourage front-line officials—including police, health, immigration, labor, mining, and forestry personnel—to identify and protect victims of forced labor and forced prostitution; do not punish victims for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to human trafficking; and offer increased protection and assistance for victims near mining communities. The State Department cites as an example of victims being punished the charging and taking into police custody of a group of Nepalese in November 2014.

The US notes that Guyana is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Women and children from Guyana, Venezuela, Suriname, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic are subjected to sex trafficking in mining communities in the interior and in urban areas.

Victims are subjected to forced labor in the mining, agriculture, and forestry sectors, as well as in domestic service and shops. Children are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labor.

Guyanese nationals are subjected to sex and labor trafficking in Suriname, Jamaica, and other countries in the Caribbean region.

In terms of convictions between 2014 and 2015, the US’ TIP report lamented that only one trafficker- a police officer- was convicted for child sex trafficking, sentenced to four years imprisonment and  released on bail on April 1, 2015 after he appealed the judgment. “The judiciary initially demonstrated positive progress in denying the trafficker’s bail request; however, upon the trafficker’s appeal of his sentence, it subsequently approved the bail request and released the trafficker.”

The TIP Report released statistics showing that Guyana investigated seven trafficking cases involving an unknown number of suspects and prosecuted four suspected traffickers.  Information on the distribution of sex and labor trafficking cases was unavailable. The government convicted one trafficker, compared with three in 2013. In 2013, the government released three convicted traffickers on bail while their cases were under appeal; these three convicted traffickers were still free on bail and had not had their appeals heard at the end of the reporting period. In 2014 and previous years, Guyanese courts ultimately dismissed the majority of ongoing trafficking prosecutions. he Ministry of Labour, Human Services, and Social Security reported referring 16 potential victims to care—largely provided by NGOs—between April 2014 and January 2015. The government did not provide information on how many victims were adults or children, male or female, or sex or labor trafficking victims. In comparison, the government reported identifying 23 victims in 2013, including 10 children, five male labor trafficking victims, and 18 sex trafficking victims.

“Weak law enforcement efforts hindered the process of holding traffickers accountable,” states the US in its TIP report.

Securing convictions of human traffickers, the report says, was partly affected by the failure to locate victims.  Victims often did not testify in court as officials failed to locate and inform them of court dates. Victims also did not testify when they had no transportation to courts or could not afford residency in Guyana in the months before their court date. The government did not adequately address this problem, which contributed to the low number of trafficking convictions,”  says the State Department.

 The US notes that government trained eight police officers on trafficking victim identification and case investigation. Law enforcement cooperated with the Governments of Suriname and Jamaica on four international sex and labor trafficking cases.