-replete with untruths
MEMBERS of the Ministerial Task Force on Trafficking in Persons (TIP), comprising Ministers Clement Rohee, Priya Manickchand, and Pauline Sukhai, yesterday responded to the recently published 2011 United States (US) State Department report on TIP at a press conference at the Home Affairs Ministry’s boardroom, Brickdam.
Minister Manickchand said that while this year’s report has seen Guyana ascending the ladder of the tier ranking system, moving from a tier 2 watch list to a tier 2, making a fairer ranking, it is still replete with misrepresentations of the country’s reality.
“We have argued for a number of years now that the reports about us do not reflect the reality on the ground in Guyana…last year we called for a withdrawal of Guyana from the tier 2 watch list and an apology from the US Government, neither of which was forthcoming,” the Human Services Minister said.
She pointed out that last year, a lot of work was done to eliminate trafficking by dealing with those found to be traffickers and by protecting and caring for victims and potential victims, yet the country was placed on a tier 2 watch list.
“This year, we have done nothing differently as far as we know, but we are ranked as a tier 2 country, which may be a quiet correction of last year’s mistake which we maintain, was unfair and unjustified,” the minister said.
Government remains unsure as to how the US ranks countries on the tier system and maintains that there seems to be little effort to determine a country’s true status and more of a rush to righteously issue these annual reports.
While the report highlighted that, “the United States is a source, transit, and destination country for many men, women and children subjected to forced labour, debt bondage, document servitude, and sex trafficking”, it also highlighted what is being done by the U.S. Government and the challenges that they are facing with regard to trafficking, an aspect that is not included for other countries.
With regard to the U.S. ranking itself as a tier 1 country, Minister Manickchand said, “we would see America being ranked as a tier 2 country if the ranking was consistent to the way in which a small, developing country like Guyana was ranked.”
She questioned how credible and consistent is the ranking system. “How much does this system carry out the intentions of the congress that passed the Trafficking and Victims Protection Act? How wisely is the dollar of the US citizen being spent, when this report seems to be a self-righteous routine and political gimmick rather than a genuine effort to combat TIP?”
Minister Manickchand quoted Democratic Senator, Jim Webb who, on April 7, 2011, criticised the US anti-trafficking approach and urged reforms of the annual report, which he said lacked “clear metrics and caused confusion and resentment…”
She also quoted the Host of America’s Most Wanted, John Walsh, who, with regard to TIP in the U.S., said, “it (trafficking) is the underbelly of the rich, rich country we live in that touts personal freedoms all over the world. We are the freest country in the world…but we are also a great country in denial.”
Minister Manickchand clarified a few misrepresentations in this year’s report, one of which stated as a result of Guyana’s now proven, justified protest about the 2010 report, might encourage trafficking.
She said that government has a duty to defend the integrity of the people and State of Guyana, and added, “we make no apologies for exposing the last U.S. report for what it was, dishonest, unfair and a misrepresentation of Guyana’s reality…If the U.S. is so concerned about what message our protest about its inaccurate reports might send, then you have a greater duty to ensure accuracy and honesty in your reporting.”
Another misrepresentation is that Guyana lacks an open atmosphere of discussion about trafficking. The report fails to mention the hundreds of public meetings that are continuously being conducted all over the country, particularly in the regions that might be most vulnerable to trafficking.
“Great effort is made to ensure full participation of all community members and officials including police, teachers, social workers, NGOs, health workers, regional officials, and trafficking focal point persons,” Minister Manickchand said.
With regard to the allegation that NGOs and officials feel unable to discuss human trafficking because of public statements made by government officials, she said that Help and Shelter and the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) are on record as having been heavily critical of Government on various matters.
“They spoke but they didn’t say what the U.S. wanted to hear, as it would not have supported what they have been saying about us all these years,” she asserted.
With regard to claims that NGOs are not supported to help trafficking victims, Minister Manickchand clarified that government gave $10M to Help and Shelter to manage its operations, while in-kind support has been given to many other NGOs.
Another unsubstantiated claim was that Guyana punishes victims instead of helping them, a statement that the minister said is simply untrue, and she challenged the U.S. to provide evidence to support this.
With regard to allegations that Guyana is aware of complicity by officials in the area of trafficking and has turned a blind eye, the minister said that this is absolutely unverified and assured that anyone sleeping on the job of addressing trafficking and any complicity would be dealt with condignly.
“This year’s report contradicts all the previous reports which specifically said that there is no complicity in trafficking,” she said.
With regard to statements that enough is not being done to raise awareness on the issue of trafficking, the minister said Guyana has an amount of money and other resources on awareness of the issue of trafficking that is disproportionate to the scale of the problem in the country.
She said, “If the reports continue to be so grossly inaccurate, not only will the friendship be hurt, but as a world, we run the risk of refuting every year, inaccuracies and unjustness rather than holding hands, combining resources and moving forward forcefully as one body against traffickers.”
Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Pauline Sukhai added that thus far for 2011, 44 sessions have been held in potential high-risk communities and her ministry continues to work closely with the Human Services Ministry and other agencies to spread awareness.
Minister Manickchand added that it is indeed disappointing when persons who claim to be patriotic Guyanese citizens choose to embrace these untruths just to advance their own personal agenda.
The report released for the 10th year in succession is being done with the objective of outlining the continuing challenges across the globe, including in the U.S. (GINA)