Enough is still not being done by the Guyana Government to effectively tackle Trafficking in Persons (TIP), according to the 2013 US State Department report on the issue, which recommended that the administration hold offenders accountable with jail time.
For the third consecutive year, Guyana was placed on the Tier 2 Watch List, which indicates that government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of TIP, but is making significant efforts to do so.
“While the government recognises that human trafficking occurs and affirmed its commitment to preventing and combating cases, public comments that seek to downplay the scope of Guyana’s trafficking problem diminished the potential impact of trafficking awareness campaigns,” the report said.
As it did last year, the report stated that Guyana is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour.
For the reporting year, government identified 19 girls, two boys, three women, and two adult men as suspected human trafficking victims; an increase from 13 victims identified the previous year.
“Guyanese and foreign women and girls are subjected to forced prostitution in Guyana,” the 2013 report said, adding that country experts have expressed concern that exploitative child labour practices, some of which likely include human trafficking, occur within the mining industry, agriculture, and forestry sectors.
According to the report, traffickers are attracted to Guyana’s interior mining communities where there is limited government control. In addition, a lack of economic opportunities in more populated coastal regions of the country draws individuals, some underage, to seek employment in the interior, where they sometimes fall victim to trafficking. The report listed the death of 16-year-old miner Aubrey Benjamin, who was killed in November last year as he attempted to collect wages owed to him by his employer.
Further, according to the report, Indonesian workers were subjected to forced labour on several Guyanese-flagged fishing boats off of the coast of Trinidad and Tobago during the reporting period. There is additional concern that Venezuelan and Brazilian women in prostitution are vulnerable to trafficking in Guyana. Guyanese nationals have been subjected to human trafficking in other countries in the Caribbean region, the report stated.
Further, government did not provide evidence that it followed through with prosecution of high-profile suspected child trafficking cases reported in the media.
This is one of the major criticisms levelled against the government by the Guyana Women Miners Organisation (GWMO), whose President Simona Broomes was honoured as a TIP hero by the US government yesterday. (See other story on page 8.) Broomes had recently questioned why the Guyana Police Force had not issued wanted bulletins for the couple accused of trafficking four girls in the Puruni Backdam. The couple had verbally and physically assaulted Broomes when she and her members removed the girls from their camp. Police are yet to arrest them even though there are reports of them being seen at Bartica.
According to the US report, government made no discernible progress in holding offenders in Guyana accountable during the reporting period. It said two new labour trafficking investigations and 16 new sex trafficking investigations were reported, along with the initiation of seven sex trafficking prosecutions. It was unclear if the one prosecution documented in the previous reporting period was included in this figure.
And, according to the report, the great majority of prosecutions initiated in other reporting periods were dismissed when prosecutors were unable to proceed, usually because witnesses declined to testify. It said that the administration continued to investigate a particularly brutal May 2012 case involving the severe beating, rape and disfigurement of a girl connected to a mining camp brothel. Law enforcement officers and prosecutors were continuing to gather information in order to issue warrants for the arrest of suspected perpetrators and to initiate prosecution at the end of the reporting year.
There were also no reported convictions of sex or labour trafficking offenders, nor any report of investigations or prosecutions of government employees for complicity in trafficking-related offences during the reporting period.
The police conducted training programmes for police ranks stationed at regional communities of Bartica, Port Kaituma, and Lethem in November 2012 and sensitisation training for students, nurses, and regional officials in January and February 2013.
While the government made efforts to protect victims of trafficking by identifying and assisting them, these efforts were hindered by the lack of accountability for perpetrators of human trafficking.
The report said the administration, in a positive step, listed the funding and a synopsis of support provided to suspected victims during the reporting period.
Government-provided services comprised psycho-social support, some medical care, transportation, and some assistance for the reintegration of victims.
Regarding a specific enquiry into the case of a girl who had been severely beaten, raped, and disfigured during the reporting period, the government reported that it had provided assistance such as medical care in a public hospital, initial psycho-social counselling, and assigned a case worker to the girl.
Guyana has a shelter for victims of domestic violence that reportedly also provided assistance to 10 female trafficking victims during the reporting period. The shelter received a government subsidy of the equivalent of approximately $50,000, the report noted. The government did not provide specialised care for adult male victims but reported that men received similar access to care services offered to female victims. In areas outside the capital, NGOs provided shelter and assistance to trafficking victims, often in dangerous conditions, without any funding from the government.
“Longer term shelter and protection was not available in Guyana, putting victims at risk of traffickers’ reprisals since the government also failed to punish most trafficking offenders with incarceration,” the report said.
Officials reportedly encouraged victims to participate in the prosecution of trafficking offenders. However, backlogs throughout the court system and delays increased the likelihood that victims would become discouraged and cease cooperating as witnesses. Stakeholders, according to the report, have indicated that there are no clear, written operating procedures to guide officials in handling human trafficking cases in coordination with NGO partners. The law protects victims from punishment for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to human trafficking and relief from deportation for foreign victims.
But, the report said, government made limited progress in preventing human trafficking during the reporting period. It stated that during the reporting period, the Ministry of Human Services operated a hotline for trafficking victims and officials conducted awareness and sensitisation sessions that targeted several vulnerable communities as well as a trafficking awareness workshop for 40 participants.
The Ministry of Human Services, funded by United Nations Development Programme, also conducted a campaign in Region Nine to educate residents and visitors on the issue of human trafficking. The Region Nine outreach included setting up a booth at the popular annual Rupununi Rodeo. Officials did not report any measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts during the reporting period.
Meantime, the report recommended that the government boost efforts to hold trafficking offenders accountable by vigorously and appropriately investigating and prosecuting forced prostitution and forced labour, in partnership with NGOs.
It was also suggested that the government develop standard operating procedures to guide and encourage frontline officials, including police, health, immigration, labour, mining, and forestry personnel in the identification and protection of victims of forced labour and forced prostitution. It was also recommended that government: ensures that victims are not punished for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to human trafficking; offers protection and assistance for victims near mining communities; investigates and holds accountable the perpetrators of forced labour on Guyanese-flagged vessels; and fosters a climate of open dialogue on trafficking by encouraging people to come forward to the authorities with information on potential cases.
This latest report by the US will more than likely raise the ire of the government which in previous years had denounced the contents of the reports.
“The Ministerial Task Force on Trafficking in Persons finds the content of the US State Department’s most recent assessment of the Government of Guyana’s efforts to combat trafficking in persons, to use a local parlance, ‘a difficult pill to swallow’. The Report fails to establish not one single fact. The Task Force notes several inaccuracies and misrepresentations in the Report that must be addressed. What is clear is that the architects of this Report have not made significant progress in improving the veracity, coherence and validity of their annual assessments,” was how government responded to last year’s report.