…Guyana remains on Tier1 human trafficking ranking
…US lauds gov’t ‘serious sustained’ efforts in combating TIP
GUYANA has fully met the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons (TIP), the United States Department of State said in its 2017 TIP report.
According to the report, “the government has continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period; therefore Guyana remained on Tier 1”.
“The government demonstrated serious and sustained efforts by increasing funding for victim assistance, identifying and assisting more victims for the third consecutive year, and opening and operating a trafficking shelter outside of the capital area,” the report stated.
Notwithstanding meeting the minimum standards, the government failed to 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 said. Meanwhile, the US Department of State has recommended that the government funds specialised victim services outside the capital and for child victims and adult male victims; vigorously investigate and prosecute sex and labour trafficking cases and hold convicted traffickers, including complicit public officials accountable by imposing strong sentences; and finalise the written identification procedures to better guide law enforcement officials.
It was also recommended that Guyana trains 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 minimises re-traumatisation; monitor the number of cases reported to the trafficking hotline or by labour inspectors to promote a rapid investigative and victim assistance response; and provide training for diplomatic personnel on trafficking.
In the area of prosecution, the report noted that the government has maintained law enforcement efforts and pointed to the Combating Trafficking of Persons Act of 2005, which criminalised sex and labour trafficking and prescribed sufficiently stringent penalties ranging from three years to life imprisonment.
“These penalties, with respect to sex trafficking, were commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape,” the report stated while noting that the law defined trafficking broadly to include the illegal sale of organs without the use of force, fraud, or coercion.
The Ministry of Social Protection (MoSP) was the lead agency responsible for 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 labour 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 court sentenced both convicted traffickers to three years imprisonment and required one trafficker 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 government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses. Authorities confirmed 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.”
Additionally, the report noted that government did not provide any support for trainings hosted by an international organisation on combating complicity. The government funded and executed training for police prosecutors, law enforcement officials, and social workers on victim-centered investigations and prosecution of trafficking cases.
In the area of protection, the report said that the government has increased its efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims, however, “victim assistance remained insufficient, especially in areas outside the capital and for child and male victims.”
“The task force and ATU drafted standard operating procedures (SOPs) for victim identification, referral, and assistance, but the SOPs were not formalized by the end of the reporting period as the government stated it planned to do so by the end of 2018.”
131 victims in 2017 were identified (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 acknowledged the $10M provided to the NGO-run shelter for the provision of enhanced psycho-social services to adult female trafficking victims referred by the government as well as the $31.2M provided to another NGO that provided housing and counselling services to victims of gender-based violence, including an unknown number of trafficking victims.
The report also acknowledged the opening and operation of the first shelter outside of Georgetown. That new shelter caters exclusively to adult female victims of trafficking. “All identified victims received shelter, food, training, and psychological therapy. There were 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. Child victims were placed into foster care, safe homes, or were reintegrated with their families while adult male victims were placed at non-specialised night shelters on an ad hoc basis,” it was observed.
The report noted that the local law protects victims’ identities from release to the media. Victims could leave shelters; however, they were strongly encouraged to stay unless with a chaperone or until trials concluded.
NGOs and MoSP provided protection and counselling for all identified victims, while the government provided transportation for victims who declined shelter but were willing to attend court proceedings.
“The government did not penalise 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 government granted one victim temporary residence and legal employment in Guyana.”
According to the report some 21 suspected trafficking victims were repatriated with the assistance of an international organisation. The government however did not report whether it facilitated or funded the repatriation of Guyanese nationals victimised abroad.
Notwithstanding, shelter, medical care, and psycho-social assistance were offered to victims upon their return.
Increased efforts to prevent trafficking by the government of Guyana were noted by the US State Department. According to the report, the TIP task force met monthly, continued implementing the 2017-2018 anti-trafficking national plan of action, and MoSP committed approximately $23.4M to anti-trafficking efforts over the reporting period.
In June, the task force trained 23 journalists on responsible reporting of trafficking cases. As in past years, the government systematically monitored its efforts and published its assessment.
“The government conducted a variety of awareness-raising activities, including producing pamphlets in English, Portuguese, and Spanish, television ads, and flash mobs. Authorities facilitated several awareness sessions focused on the mining and logging sectors outside the capital. The ATU executed numerous sensitisation 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.
Additionally, the report said government failed to make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labour. Authorities conducted approximately 1,000 unannounced labour inspections in the capital and the interior. “The government granted temporary amnesty to foreign labourers in order for them to regularise their immigration status in Guyana. Labor inspectors received trafficking-specific training, but did not report whether they identified any cases.”
“The government did not provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel, but with in-kind assistance from international organisations, the task force began drafting a training module,” the report noted.
Over the past five years, Guyana has been a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. 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 report said.
“Victims are subjected to forced labour in the mining, agriculture, and forestry sectors, as well as in domestic service and shops. While, both sex trafficking and forced labour occur in interior mining communities, limited government presence in the country’s interior renders the full extent of trafficking unknown. Children are particularly vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking. Guyanese nationals are subjected to sex and labour trafficking in Jamaica, Suriname, and other Caribbean countries,” the report on Guyana concluded.
The TIP task force will be responding to the report today.