Last Updated on Tuesday, 27 June 2017, 22:09 by Denis Chabrol
The United States (US) on Tuesday gave Guyana a Tier 1 ranking for making efforts to tackle Trafficking In Persons (TIP) and complying with America’s minimum standards to fight the scourge, but at the same said much more needs to be done outside the capital, Georgetown.
“Although the government meets the minimum standards, it did not increase protection and services for victims outside the capital or provide adequate protection and shelter for child and male victims,” states the 2017 TIP report. The State Department document reiterates in this year’s report that “the government increased victim identification efforts, but victim assistance remained insufficient, especially in areas outside the capital and for male victims.
The TIP report notes that Guyana failed to keep its promise to build a shelter for males and children who have been trafficked, and that child victims were given no food while being held. “There were no adequate public or private shelters for male or child trafficking victims, despite the government’s commitment, made in early 2016, to open and partially fund a shelter for male victims. Also, the State Department notes that government did not provide funds to an anti-trafficking non-governmental organisation with which it had signed a memorandum of understanding for the provision of enhanced psycho-social services to adult female trafficking victims referred by the government.
“Despite this commitment, the government did not fund this shelter during this reporting period. The government provided 13 million GYD ($63,415) to another NGO that provided housing and counseling services to victims of gender-based violence, including an unknown number of trafficking victims,” the report adds.
Child trafficking victims were placed in non-specialized shelters, and child victims identified in rural areas were placed in holding cells overnight without food before being transferred to the capital for shelter. Male victims were offered voluntary placement in homeless shelters,” states the document.
The US State Department said it opted to place Guyana on the highest tier this year because government made several “key achievements” in battling the human trafficking over the last two years. “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,” states the report.
And, while an international organization provided three training sessions for government officials on
investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenses, the US notes that the Guyana government “did not provide in-kind support for these trainings.”
Back in July 2015, Guyana had sunk to Tier 3- the lowest ranking- but escaped serious sanctions such as the withholding of US financial aid and the blocking of funding to Guyana at the level of international financial assistance such as the World Bank.
Major recommendations that the State Department issued to Guyana include the need to fund specialized victim services such as those offered by non-governmental organisations, including for child victims and adult male victims.
Guyana is also being called on to vigorously investigate and prosecute sex and labor trafficking
cases and hold convicted traffickers, including complicit public officials, accountable by imposing sufficiently stringent sentences.
The training of law enforcement, judiciary officials, and frontline responders—especially those working outside the capital—on victim identification and referral procedures; finalize the written identification procedures to better guide law enforcement officials; provide additional protection for victims to enable them to testify against traffickers in a way that minimizes re-traumatization are among the other ideas that the US has offered Guyana.
The US State Department also wants Guyanese officials to record the number of cases reported to
the trafficking hotline to promote a rapid investigative and victim assistance response; and provide training for diplomatic personnel on human trafficking.
Guyana is credited with increased its law enforcement efforts and adding three new officers to the Anti-Trafficking Unit of the Ministry of Social Protection to plan and execute the unit’s site visits and victim-extraction exercises.
The government’s inter-ministerial task-force, which included representatives from several agencies and a specialized anti-trafficking NGO, coordinated a number of successful police operations.
Figures, according to the State Department, show that in 2016, the Guyana government reported 19 trafficking
investigations, 19 prosecutions, and two convictions; compared to 15 trafficking investigations, seven prosecutions, and one conviction in 2015, and seven investigations, four prosecutions, and one conviction in 2014. The court sentenced one convicted trafficker to three years imprisonment and required a restitution payment to the victim. The US noted that the court required the second trafficker only to pay restitution, a penalty inconsistent with the law and one that the anti-trafficking task force appealed.
The government reported identifying 98 trafficking victims in 2016 (80 for sex trafficking and 18 for labor trafficking), compared with 56 in 2015. An NGO reported the government referred 40 victims to shelter and psycho social services in 2016, compared with 17 victims in 2015, states the report.
The US says the Guyana government granted one victim of trafficking temporary residence and legal employment in Guyana. The government did not report whether it facilitated or funded the repatriation of Guyanese nationals victimized abroad; however, it offered shelter, medical care, and psycho-social assistance to victims upon their return.
In July, with funding from a foreign government and an international organization, 105 officials and some NGO representatives received victim identification and protection training over a six-day period. In December,
the government-funded training for 37 officials on victim identification and assistance
The US notes that the Guyana government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of
government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses. Authorities confirmed that the police officer who was convicted of sex trafficking in 2015 was terminated from his position in the police force; however, his case’s appeal was still pending at the end of the reporting period.
In the area of protection, Guyana’s Anti-Trafficking Unit, in collaboration with the Guyana Police Force, was praised for developing identification procedures that field officers used informally during the reporting period
pending their formal review and approval from the taskforce.
Other areas noted in the report are that the Guyana government encouraged victims to assist in the investigation
and prosecution of their traffickers.
Guyanese law protects victims’ identities from being released to the media; however, NGOs reported open court trials re-traumatized victims and exposed their identity to members of the public.
Victims were allowed to leave shelters during their stay; however, they were strongly encouraged to stay in shelters until trials concluded or be chaperoned. NGOs provided protection and counseling for victims during their stay. Guyanese law protects victims from punishment for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking and provides foreign victims with relief from deportation.
Meanwhile, Minister of Social Protection, Ms. Amna Ally said that this classification is testament to the hard work that the Government has been doing to de-link Guyana from the notoriety associated with being a known source and destination country for which men, women and children are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour.
“Under the 2015 Trafficking in Person Report on Guyana, mention was made on the limited Government presence in the interior regions, which left little scope for the full extent to which Trafficking in Persons crimes occur within these regions. There seemed to be an inability of the previous administration to adequately combat trafficking in person in these areas,” Minister Ally said. When the Coalition Government took office, immediate actions were taken, which resulted in the reformation of the Anti-Trafficking Inter-Ministerial Taskforce. That body includes several Government agencies and non-governmental bodies, including the lead anti-trafficking group, the Guyana Women Miners Organisation.
Meanwhile, Minister of Public Health, Ms. Volda Lawrence, who held the portfolio of Minister of Social Protection up to January 2017, said that the latest report vindicates the Government and is proof of the political will to fight this scourge. “We have made great strides in addressing TIP since we came into Government and, as I said last year, it is the political will that is needed to address this issue. This is not a Guyana issue. It is a worldwide issue and, hence, it is the political will that will help to bring this particular form of what they call ‘modern-day slavery’ to an end,” Minister Lawrence said.
She explained that the first thing the Government did was recognise and acknowledge that there is human trafficking in Guyana then moved to strengthen the department that deals with trafficking in the Ministry of Social Protection. “Where there were just two persons, we beefed it up we ensured that all the requisite personnel were in place and also we sought to build partnerships. We worked with the Guyana Police Force. There was some training done in terms of investigative skills and also a police officer was assigned to the department.”
Minister Ally said that the Government has “increased collaboration with anti-trafficking non-governmental organisations by instituting procedures to refer victims to the shelter. These efforts have been sustained with significant strides being made to employ additional personnel. She also informed that the Ministry of Social Protection completed several awareness and training sessions in high risk areas. Training sessions were also conducted with front line officers and medical practitioners to build capacity in identifying possible instances of TIP.”
This point was supported by Minister Lawrence, who said that all of the recommendations in the report are on the Government’s agenda. “When we came in we built this section [TIP department in the Ministry of Social Protection], we got the task force going, we came up with an action plan… It’s a work in progress. We started out on ‘Tier 2 Watch List’ then we went to ‘Tier 2’, today we are on Tier 1 and it tells you that the Government is doing what it is mandated to do and that is to protect its citizens. We have not been able to accomplish everything, but we believe that our focus and the plan which we have will certainly get us there,” she was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the Ministry of the Presidency.
She added that the fact that the Ministers of Public Security, Social Protection and Indigenous People’s Affairs are all sitting on the TIP task force speaks to the seriousness and commitment, which the Government attaches to the fight against human trafficking.
While this improved ranking is significant and should be celebrated, the Government recognises that much more needs to be done. Minister Ally said that some of the areas, which continue to engage their attention, include awareness programmes targeting children and vulnerable groups, impromptu inspections in the capital and interior locations, anti-trafficking training for members of the public service, improvement in staffing capacity at Ministry of Social Protection to bolster the reach of the TIP unit and counselling and support for victims.