Guyana still falling short in human trafficking fight, US says

-country remains on Watch List

The Government of Guyana still does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons but is making significant efforts to do so, the US State Department has said in its Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report for 2014.

The report says that the Ministry of Labour, Human Services & Social Security has demonstrated concrete efforts to assist trafficking victims but despite these efforts, government has not demonstrated evidence of overall increasing efforts to address the crime and the country continues to be a source destination for men, women and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour. As a result, Guyana has again been placed on the Tier 2 Watch List, which is for countries where governments do not fully comply with the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.

The annual report, which was released yesterday and details the progress made in combating TIP by various countries, stated that Guyana’s inability to hold traffickers accountable creates an enabling environment for human trafficking.

Last year, the government rejected the 2013 report by the US, saying that it was “riddled with fabrication” and ignores efforts at combatting human trafficking. The administration had indicated that it was not going to comply with Washington’s request for information for this year’s publication since the reports do not accurately represent the submissions. While from all indications, some information was provided by the government, there are instances where that information was not forthcoming.

The report said that while Guyana has an adequate trafficking law and achieved three trafficking convictions during the reporting period, all three of the convicted traffickers were released on bail pending appeal. The report stated that the government did not provide information regarding the basis on which the defendants sought to appeal their convictions or on which the court determined to grant the traffickers bail. “The inability to hold traffickers accountable creates an environment for human trafficking. Trafficking victims have accused police officers and other government employees of cooperating with traffickers,” the report said.

According to the report, Guyanese and foreign women and girls-including from Venezuela, Suriname and Brazil-are subjected to prostitution in Guyana. “While the full extent of forced labour is unknown, there have been reports of forced labour in the mining, agriculture, and forestry sectors, as well as in domestic service and shops,” the report added.

It said that traffickers are attracted to Guyana’s interior mining communities where there is limited government control, but Guyanese and foreign nationals are also vulnerable to trafficking in urban centres and elsewhere in the country. Children, the report said, are particularly vulnerable to forced labour while Guyanese nationals are subjected to human trafficking in other countries in the Caribbean region.

The US recommended that Guyana boost efforts to hold trafficking offenders accountable by vigorously investigating and prosecuting forced prostitution and forced labor cases, including those involving complicit officials. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) should also be provided with funding to identify and assist victims. It was further recommended that the country develop child-sensitive investigation procedures to reduce additional harm to victims, and develop court procedures that protect the privacy of children and minimise the emotional trauma of providing testimony.

 

Standard operating
procedures

 

The report also urged government, in partnership with NGOs, to develop and publicise written standard operating procedures to guide and encourage front-line officials—including police, health, immigration, labour, mining, and forestry personnel—to identify and protect victims of forced labor and forced prostitution. It urged Guyana to implement procedures to ensure that victims are not punished for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to human trafficking; and offer increased protection and assistance for victims near mining communities.

The report said that law enforcement officials did not provide data on the number of trafficking investigations they undertook during the reporting period, compared to the previous year when it was stated that there were two labour trafficking investigations and 16 sex trafficking investigations. The report mentioned the trafficking cases dismissed against Ann Marie Carter in the Bartica Magistrates court for want of prosecution. While the police had indicated that the witnesses failed to attend court some of the victims later said that they were not informed of the court dates.

In addition, while the government has said that three traffickers were convicted in 2013, none of the three were serving their sentences at the end of the reporting period and were out on bail. Two had received sentences of five and four years’ imprisonment respectively.

The report said that while the government made efforts to protect victims of trafficking, the continued lack of accountability for perpetrators further endangered victims. It said that the Human Services Ministry had reported that it identified 23 victims last year, including 10 children, five male labour trafficking victims, and 18 sex trafficking victims. Sixteen of these victims consented to be referred to care facilities during the reporting period.

 

Inadequate victim
support

 

The support given to victims as reported by the government consisted of psycho-social support, basic medical care, transportation, and some assistance for victims’ reintegration. However, the report said “sources” claim the government resources devoted to victim support is inadequate. There were also reports that authorities failed to provide assistance specific to the needs of trafficking survivors, and that victims who had been rescued were re-trafficked or became homeless after they did not received adequate protection services from the government.

The report said that one NGO reported rescuing 29 victims, mostly children, last year and additional victims in 2014. It stated that Guyana has not adopted methods of allowing children to testify that ensure their safety.

The report concluded that government made minimal efforts to prevent trafficking. It pointed out that the government’s ministerial taskforce was designated to monitor and assess the government’s anti-trafficking efforts, but it did not report any results. “A leading NGO that has played a significant role in rescuing trafficking victims requested to be one of the NGO partners on the ministerial anti-trafficking taskforce; however the taskforce has yet to grant this request despite this organisation’s critical role in the protection of victims,” the report said.

The Guyana Women Miners Organisation (GWMO) has repeatedly complained about not being invited to be part of the taskforce even though the organisation has written to Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee, who heads the taskforce, on numerous occasions and he has not responded.

The government reportedly provided in-kind support to a UNDP- funded programme to raise awareness about human trafficking and provide communities with a government-operated trafficking hotline number. The government did not report how many calls the hotline received. Officials also did not report any measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor during the reporting period.

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