Guyana slams US human trafficking report

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Friday June 29, 2012 – The Guyana government has denounced the latest US State Department report on trafficking in persons which contended that Georgetown has made no discernible progress in holding human trafficking offenders in Guyana accountable. It added that limited progress was made in preventing human trafficking during the reporting period.

Echoing previous editions of its annual report, the US State Department said: “Guyana is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Guyanese nationals have been subjected to human trafficking in other countries in the Caribbean region. Cases of human trafficking reported in the media generally involved women and girls in forced prostitution.”

As in 2011, Guyana remains on Tier 2 in the latest report, which says that government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.

Georgetown reacted on Wednesday via the Ministerial Task Force on Trafficking with a detailed, strongly worded statement in which it claimed that the US report “fails to establish not one single fact”. It went on to state that the architects of the report “have not made significant progress in improving the veracity, coherence and validity of their annual assessments”, adding that the Task Force “considers the report an affront to its members…”. It condemned one aspect of the report as “a total falsehood”.

The full text of the statement follows:

“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.

“The Ministerial Task Force denounces the Report since it comprises unsubstantiated generalizations and repetitive uncorroborated claims. The Task Force strongly recommends that the US State Department seek to improve its methodology, establish proper baselines to guide comparisons, avoid use of anecdotal claims and develop a consistent, understandable, transparent and logical tier ranking system if countries are to benefit from these rituals.

“The plethora of uncorroborated claims made in the Report can only result in a distorted view of the Guyanese reality as regards the national trafficking in persons’ situation.  Further the Task Force considers the Report an affront to its members, frontline government staff and over one hundred (100) citizens who have been trained to identify and report trafficking in persons and have been doing so along with NGOs such as Help Shelter, Food for the Poor (Guyana) and the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) all of whom partnered with Government in responding to trafficking in persons matters.

“While we were encouraged by what we felt at the time was meaningful dialogue between the Ministerial Task Force and US Embassy Officials, this Report raises significant concerns over the efficacy of these engagements.   A perusal of the Report reveals two inescapable inferences; one, the architects had already decided what they wanted to put in the Report and two, the architects gave little or no credence to the   information presented by government in partnership with NGOs.  Consequently, those two factors beg the question of the usefulness of such engagements in future.

“The danger of these unfounded claims and anecdotes that are replete in the US Report is that even though they are not the product of systematic research nor critical analysis they have nevertheless been published in the local media thus influencing public opinion. The US Report’s misrepresentation and scaremongering must be refuted because of its impact on the country’s image and the perpetuation of stereotypes and fears.  Worst yet, it can lead to a waste of resources and energy, and a reduction in traditional opportunities for personal economic development and educational advancement.

“Perhaps the most alarming aspect of the Report is the assertion that; “the government has not updated its National Plan of Action (NPA) to combat trafficking in persons since 2005.”  This is a total falsehood.

“During the engagements leading up to this report we shared with the US the National Plan of Action (NPA) that guided our response for the period 2010-2011.  The plan covered prevention and awareness, direct assistance to victims of trafficking and criminal justice response to combat trafficking in persons.

“The NPA comprised sixteen specific objectives: to provide information about Trafficking in Persons and safe migration to vulnerable communities; to improve cooperation mechanisms among key stakeholders to prevent TIP; to enhance capacity of hinterland communities to prevent Trafficking in Persons; to provide appropriate and comprehensive direct assistance to victims; to enhance capacity of stakeholders to identify victims and provide direct assistance through training; to formalize and strengthen a National Referral Mechanism and Inter-agency protocol; to enhance the capacity of the Law Enforcement Agency to investigate, prosecute and convict traffickers; and to enhance cooperative and enforcement mechanisms among neighbouring countries  to convict traffickers and protect victims, inter alia.

“One of the successful outputs of this plan was the formation of the Training and Awareness Sub-committee, a task oriented group to standardise training material and eliminate gaps in geographical coverage of awareness programmes.”

“Equally startling is the claim that; “the government’s public insistence that human trafficking is not a significant problem in the country created a potential disincentive for police and court officials to address trafficking cases.”   If we are to logically extend this line of reasoning then if government says that kidnapping and abductions rates in Guyana are negligible then according to the logic of the US Embassy the Government of Guyana can be accused of creating a disincentive for these crimes to be reported and investigated.

“The Report goes on to say; “There was evidence that people could be penalized for reporting suspected human trafficking crimes to the police.”  Police investigations into this matter pointed to the possibility that a young female was trafficked and that a family member was apparently complicit in the arrangement.  It was further alleged, that the said family member had received a financial reward in return for her involvement.  Although not widespread, this is the second time that the Guyanese authorities have found evidence indicating that family members were complicit in trafficking another family member.  The fact that the family member eventually reported the matter is not sufficient to exonerate her of facilitating a crime.

“Further, the Report states that; “Guyana is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour.”  The Ministerial Task Force challenges the US Embassy to validate this assertion with quantitative data since none was provided.  The Report provides no evidence of forced labour; in fact, in a surprisingly strange twist in its analysis, the Report accuses government of not doing enough to generate the data to back the “claim” made in the US Report!!

“The architects of the Report punctuate their analysis with a view that there are “vulnerabilities” especially among hinterland residents. The Task Force wishes to emphasize that the Government of Guyana has gone about attacking trafficking in persons through the criminal justice system as well as social prevention measures.  Programmes such as the Hinterland Scholarship Programme which has expanded over the years, the School Uniform Programme, economic assistance to single mothers, and skills training for youths all are aimed at tackling vulnerabilities and achieving human security.

“This approach is in line with the Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children. Notwithstanding the fact that this social prevention approach has suffered a setback owing to opposition budget cuts, government is determined to attack vulnerabilities wherever it exists.

“Unfortunately, the US assessment does not find any merit in this approach, yet in another strange twist of logic it highlights issues of vulnerabilities.

“In so far as child labour is concerned, the Ministerial Task Force wishes to point out that even though child labour and trafficking in persons can overlap there are institutional arrangements in Guyana to address each of these issues.  In addressing child labour and human smuggling the Guyanese authorities would usually seek to establish where trafficking exists and vice versa. In fact, the US Report alluded to a raid where Law Enforcement officials targeted commercial premises used for prostitution.  While investigators did not find human trafficking, they however discovered breaches of Guyana’s Immigration Regulations.

“In responding to the US Report, the Ministerial Task Force is obligated to defend our national image against unwarranted criticisms. While we applaud the efforts of the US to highlight this global issue, we encourage them to conduct more systematic research and be more objective in their analyses in future Reports.  The Task Force is also cognizant of the useful role the local media can play in sensitising Guyanese against menaces to human security such as human trafficking.  It is the intention of the Task Force to continue to engage the media constructively.

“The Ministerial Task Force fully recognises the need for a robust response involving partnership among government agencies, and non-governmental stakeholders.  This is a key component of the 2012-2013 NPA which is built on the four Ps strategy: prevention, prosecution, protection and partnership. Thus the Task Force’s current focus is to implement the deliverables set out in the NPA, including reviewing and improving the protocol for victim identification and direct victim assistance and the training of first responders.

“The Ministerial Task Force intends to work with other government agencies to employ a range of social prevention measures to reduce vulnerabilities wherever they exist. We anticipate a more constructive engagement between local stakeholders and US Government.  It would be remiss of us not to mention the training support offered by the US to enhance local capabilities for responding to trafficking and to publicly express our gratitude.  We hope that such fruitful engagements will continue free of rancour and in the spirit of mutual respect.  The Ministerial Task Force on Trafficking in Persons is committed and stands ready to continue working with all stakeholders to raise public awareness of trafficking in persons in Guyana.” Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)