Guyana maintains Tier 1 status in human trafficking fight despite fewer prosecutions, convictions

-US State Dep’t

While Guyana maintains its Tier 1 standing given the “serious and sustained efforts” undertaken in the fight against Trafficking in Persons (TIP), government has been called out for its failure to provide adequate out of town protection and shelter to victims, the decrease in prosecutions and the low successful conviction rate.

The US State Department’s 2018 Trafficking in Persons report said that the government fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking as a result of increased funding for victim assistance, identification and assistance of more victims for the third consecutive year, and the opening and operating of a trafficking shelter outside of the capital.

“Although the government meets the minimum standards, it did not provide adequate protection and shelter outside the capital, or for child and male victims. The number of trafficking investigations and new prosecutions decreased, and the number of successful convictions remained low,” the report, however, states.

In 2016, Guyana was removed from the Tier 2 Watch List and was placed on Tier 2, signaling that the country was doing more to fight the scourge.

Tier 1 is the highest ranking a country can receive, but it does not mean that it has no human trafficking problem or that it is doing enough to address the problem. Rather, the ranking indicates that a government has acknowledged the existence of human trafficking, has made efforts to address the problem, and meets the minimum standards.

The 2018 report in its recommendations stressed on the need for funding to be made available and for great focus to be placed on the protection of victims, the prosecution of traffickers and the prevention of trafficking.

“Fund specialized victim services outside the capital and for child victims and adult male victims; vigorously investigate and prosecute sex and labor trafficking cases and hold convicted traffickers, including complicit public officials, accountable by imposing strong sentences; finalize the written identification procedures to better guide law enforcement officials; train more law enforcement, judiciary officials, and front-line responders—especially those working outside the capital—on victim identification and referral procedures; develop standard procedures for protecting foreign victims; provide additional protection for victims to testify against traffickers in a way that minimizes re-traumatization; monitor the number of cases reported to the trafficking hotline or by labor inspectors to promote a rapid investigative and victim assistance response; and provide training for diplomatic personnel on trafficking,” the report has recommended.

In the area of prosecution, it was stressed that the government maintained law enforcement efforts. It was pointed out that the Combating Trafficking of Persons Act of 2005 criminalized sex and labour trafficking and prescribed sufficiently stringent penalties ranging from three years to life imprisonment. The report said these penalties with respect to sex trafficking were commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.

While explaining that the law defined trafficking broadly to include the illegal sale of organs without the use of force, fraud, or coercion, the report said that Guyana’s Ministry of Social Protection (MoSP) is leading the way in coordinating trafficking efforts, overseeing the Anti-Trafficking Unit (ATU) and participating on the government’s inter-ministerial task force.

“The task force, which included representatives from several agencies and an anti-trafficking NGO, coordinated a number of successful police operations. In 2017, the government reported four new trafficking investigations (two for sex trafficking and two for labor trafficking), 17 prosecutions (12 of which were initiated in previous reporting periods), and two convictions; compared to 19 investigations, 19 prosecutions, and two convictions in 2016”, the report said before informing that the two convicted traffickers were sentenced to three years imprisonment and one trafficker was required to pay restitution to one victim. A case from the previous reporting period in which the government required the trafficker only to pay restitution, a penalty inconsistent with the law and one that the task force appealed, remained pending, the report reminded.

It was noted that the government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses.

The report added that 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 appeal was still pending at the end of the reporting period.

While pointing out that the government did not provide any support for trainings hosted by an international organization on combating complicity, the report said that it did fund and execute training for police prosecutors, law enforcement officials, and social workers on victim-centered investigations and prosecution of trafficking cases.

With regards to the protection of victims, the report informed that the government has increased efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims. “However, victim assistance remained insufficient, especially in areas outside the capital and for child and male victims”, it said before pointing out that the task force and ATU drafted standard operating procedures (SOPs) for victim identification, referral, and assistance were not formalized by the end of the reporting period, as the government stated that it planned to do so by the end of 2018.

“The government identified 131 victims in 2017 (65 for sex trafficking, 35 for labor trafficking, and 31 for both forms), compared with 98 in 2016. The government referred 115 victims to shelter and psycho-social services, compared with 40 in 2016. The government trained 156 village leaders and 96 government officials from the interior regions on victim identification and assistance. The government also trained members of the business community and civil society on victim identification”, the report informed.

Additionally, it said, government provided $10 million to the NGO-run shelter for the provision of enhanced psycho-social services to adult female trafficking victims referred by the government. The government also provided $31.2 million to another NGO that provided housing and counseling services to victims of gender-based violence, including an unknown number of trafficking victims.

According to the report, government opened and operated the first shelter outside of the capital which caters exclusively to adult female victims of trafficking. All identified victims received shelter, food, training, and psychological therapy but there is however 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, the report revealed.

It was noted that child victims were placed into foster care, safe homes, or were reintegrated with their families while adult male victims were placed at non-specialized night shelters on an ad hoc basis.

While noting that Guyanese law protects victims’ identities from release to the media, the report states that victims could leave shelters but were strongly encouraged to stay unless with a chaperone or until trials had concluded.

NGOs and MoSP provided protection and counseling for all identified victims, while the government provided transportation for victims who declined shelter but were willing to attend court proceedings, it said.

Further, the report revealed that the government did not penalize victims for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking. “The government reported multiple cases of delivering foreign victims to their respective embassies at the request of the foreign missions before the conclusion of prosecutions”, the report said, adding that the government granted one victim temporary residence and legal employment in Guyana. The government, with the assistance of an international organization, repatriated 21 suspected trafficking victims. According to the report, the government did not state whether it facilitated or funded the repatriation of Guyanese nationals victimized abroad; however, it did offer shelter, medical care, and psycho-social assistance to victims upon their return.

The report said that government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. It was disclosed that the task force met monthly, continued implementing the 2017-2018 anti-trafficking national plan of action, and MoSP committed approximately $23.4 million to anti-trafficking efforts over the reporting period.

In June, the task force trained 23 journalists on responsible reporting of trafficking cases, the report said noting that as in past years, the government systematically monitored its efforts and published its assessment. Additionally the government conducted a variety of awareness-raising activities, including producing pamphlets in English, Portuguese, and Spanish, television ads, and flash mobs. Further, authorities facilitated several awareness sessions focused on the mining and logging sectors outside the capital. The ATU executed numerous sensitization campaigns at schools, NGOs, prisons, and public spaces across Guyana.

The government operated a trafficking hotline but did not report how many calls it received, the report said, adding that the government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor.

Authorities conducted approximately 1,000 unannounced labor inspections in the capital and the interior and temporary amnesty was granted to foreign laborers in order for them to regularize their immigration status in Guyana. Labor inspectors received trafficking-specific training, but did not report whether they identified any cases, it said. The government also did not provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel, but with in-kind assistance from international organizations, the task force began drafting a training module.

As reported over the last five years, Guyana is a “source and destination country” for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor, the report said. It was pointed out that women and children from Guyana, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Suriname, Haiti, and Venezuela are subjected to sex trafficking in mining communities in the interior and urban areas.

The US State Department’s website states that this year’s report focuses on effective ways local communities can address human trafficking proactively and on how national governments can support and empower them. “Local communities are the most affected by this abhorrent crime and are also the first line of defense against human trafficking. By engaging and training law enforcement, religious leaders, teachers, tribal elders, business executives, and communities, we become more vigilant and learn to identify and address vulnerabilities swiftly. Proactive community-driven measures strengthen our ability to protect our most vulnerable and weaken a criminal’s ability to infiltrate, recruit, and exploit”, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo was quoted as saying.

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