External Relations: Live from Washington, DC
The United States Department of State disseminates three annual reports which the Government of Guyana never fails to repudiate
The Government of the United States, through its Department of State in Washing-ton, DC now under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has become the Govern-ment of Guyana’s recurrent nightmare. The Department of State never fails to excoriate the Georgetown administration for poor governance in its series of annual reports – Trafficking in Persons, International Narcotics Control Strategy and Human Rights Practices. The Guyana Government, equally, never fails to repudiate those reports.
The tone of the administration’s ritual refutation this year, regrettably, was more vulgarian than previous performances by a wide margin. Its attempts to present an international image as a happy haven of human rights and social progress were tarnished as much by the Reports as by the ministers’ crass reactions to them. Hours after the release of the Trafficking in Persons Report last month, for example, all hell seemed to break loose when the administration convened a press conference to lambaste the Report. Placed on the Tier 2 Watch List for the fourth consecutive year, Guyana was described as having a “significant” number of persons who had been trafficked.
Minister of Human Services and Social Security Priya Manickchand is reported to have described the Report as “crap” and said it was “based on sheer ignorance and eye pass.” Several of her cabinet colleagues joined the chorus to express their rehearsed outrage. The Government Information Agency chimed in with a press statement insisting that “the reports are misleading and based on fabrications designed to make the GTIP [Global Trafficking in Persons] appear competent.”
The Trafficking in Persons Report – issued by the United States Department of State and released by its Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons in early June – called attention to the insecurity of the lives of some of our first citizens. That Report confirmed the well-known but inconvenient truth that many victims of trafficking are young indigenous women who are taken from the hinterland to work elsewhere in the country and are subjected to various forms of degrading treatment.
The Report stated that “Guyana is a source country for men, women, and children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically conditions of forced prostitution and forced labor…Forced prostitution occurs in brothels on the coast and around mining camps as well as in rum shops and Chinese restaurants. The common Guyanese practice of poor, rural families sending children to live with higher-income family members or acquaintances in more populated areas has the potential to evolve into forced domestic servitude.”
What must have irked the administration was the State Department’s verdict that “The Government of Guy-ana does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking…the government did not initiate any new prosecutions of trafficking offenses during the reporting period and has yet to convict or punish any trafficking offenders under its five-year old anti-human trafficking law. Therefore, Guyana is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for the fourth consecutive year.”
This is not the first time that that the administration reacted angrily to State Department reports. Its paranoia got so intense in 2008 that it decided to issue a report of its own. Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee, under the auspices of the National Inter-Agency Task Force for Combatting Trafficking in Persons, launched a self-congratulatory, do-it-yourself national ‘Report’ in December 2008.
Mr Rohee discovered that “there were gaps and inadequacies in external reports” and declared that the purpose behind the local Report was “to present to citizens a factual and authentic picture of the nature and magnitude of trafficking in persons in Guyana and a truthful documentation of Government’s response to this phenomenon.” He complained that “too often we have external agencies of the donor community compiling reports on various phenomena in our country as if we Guyanese do not have the capacity and objectivity to compile such reports on our own.” He seemed to miss the point completely. The issue was not one of capacity but of credibility and, for that reason, his self-serving Report has been ignored.
The administration also reacted angrily to criticisms by the Department of State’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report released by the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs in early March. The Report determined, as usual, that Guyana was “a transit point for cocaine destined for North America, Europe, West Africa, and the Carib-bean…Weak border controls and limited resources for law enforcement continue to allow drug traffickers to move shipments via river, air and land with minimal resistance.” Mr Rohee promptly dismissed the US Report as “a misrepresentation and falsification of the Guyanese reality.” On this occasion, thankfully, he did not commission a local report to present the administration’s side of the story.
Nasty reports like this year’s have been in the making for a decade. To its credit, the administration did establish all the right law-enforcement agencies, launch the right drug strategy master plans and sign the right international conventions such as the UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Sub-stances. It has always been clear, however, that despite the appearance of sincerity, the façade concealed complacency and the fact that it was actually doing next to nothing about preventing narcotics from entering the country.
The US Report, for the first time in 2004, cited the Government’s “lack of political will” as a contributory factor to the continuing ineffectiveness of the national counter-narcotics programme. Reports since then have highlighted the nexus between the apparent ineffectiveness of administration’s counter-narcotics agenda and agencies on the one hand and the vitality of the narco-trafficking and money-laundering cartels on the other.
The US annual Reports repeatedly pointed to the fact that – throughout the past decade which coincides roughly with Mr Bharrat Jagdeo’s presidency – there have not been any large domestic seizures of cocaine nor has any important member of a narco-trafficking cartel been punished by a court of law. Responding to a previous report on narcotics-trafficking, President Jagdeo threatened “…if the US needs cooperation from Guyana [to fight drug-trafficking], they have to start helping us. If they can give Colombia millions, they certainly can give us more than $50M.” The President’s words seemed to clarify the administration’s attitude to combating this particular crime!
Official reaction to the Report on Human Rights Practices issued by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor was more restrained than that displayed to the other two reports.
This was the result, perhaps, of the widespread publicity in the press of the egregious abuses of state agencies. The Report, as expected, placed on record the ‘crime of the year’ – the torture of the 14-year-old Twyon Thomas by two policemen. As is well known, the boy who was a suspect in the killing of a ranking member of the People’s Progressive Party, was doused with alcohol and his genitals set on fire during the police investigation.
This year’s Report correctly called attention to “killings by police, torture and mistreatment of suspects and detainees by security forces, poor prison and jail conditions, and lengthy pre-trial detention. Other problems included government corruption and sexual and domestic violence against women and abuse of minors.”
Criticism has usually been directed at the under-staffed and under-resourced Guyana Police Force for its human rights delinquency. On the one hand, the Police Force indeed was responsible for several extra-judicial killings, in most cases shooting victims while attempting to make arrests or while crimes are being committed. According to the Report, however, “Police seldom were prosecuted for unlawful killings.” The Police Force, on the other hand, has also been criticised for its inadequate response to trafficking in persons and violence against women.
The administration, after nearly eighteen years in office, should realise that the world has changed. The vigilance of international organisations and the alertness of civil society on the one hand and the speed, efficiency and power of modern communications on the other make it impossible for a state to conceal certain types of public abuses. People need good governance and effective law enforcement not press conferences and public displays of ministerial wrath.
The administration, in-stead of reforming its law enforcement agencies especially the Guyana Police Force, adopted a hollow boardroom policy where practical policing is needed. It established a web of bureaucratic committees which are incapable of effecting real change in the places where the abuses occur. The National Inter-Agency Task Force for Combating Trafficking in Persons, for example, was created in February 2007 with no one else but the Minister of Home Affairs as Chairman. The Task Force comprises representatives of the Ministry of Legal Affairs, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security and two non-governmental organisations – Food for the Poor and Help and Shelter.
The Task Force’s main objectives were to carry out effective public education and other measures to prevent trafficking in persons and to ensure focused attention in dealing with offences of Trafficking in Persons. Education is necessary but not sufficient. There must be stronger enforcement especially in the hinterland and on the borders where these crimes are rampant. Without independent investigation, including interviews with the victims, decision-makers will be unable to design practical programmes to enforce the law and eradicate the crime.
The administration also established the Task Force on Narcotics and Illicit Weapons at the Home Affairs Ministry in 2007. Its assumed aims were to facilitate the implementation of the National Drug Strategy Master Plan and to suppress the trade in illegal drugs and firearms. Comprising representatives of the Guyana Defence Force, the Guyana Police Force, the Guyana Revenue Authority, Customs Anti-Narcotic Unit and the Financial Intelligence Unit, this task force was meant to direct, coordinate and advise on law enforcement operations in relation to the narcotics trade and trafficking in illegal weapons.
The Plan has expired after never having been implemented fully. Yet the sterile committees continue to run about like headless chickens. What is needed is more efficient enforcement in the hinterland and on the borders to prevent the importation of narcotics, not boardroom meetings.
The US Department of State should not be seen as the sworn enemy of the Government of Guyana. In the final analysis, the primary goal of its three reports is to examine human security, that is, the protection of people from critical and pervasive threats and situations and the preservation of vital freedoms. The Government of Guyana, rather than wasting time abusing the Department of State should examine its own administrative policies and law enforcement activities to determine whether, indeed, its performance needs to be improved.
If Georgetown does not improve its performance on public safety, Washington is unlikely to change the contents of its reports.