(GINA) The Government of Guyana and more particularly, the Ministerial Task Force on Trafficking in Persons (TIP), have dismissed the recently published US State Department report on human trafficking in Guyana as inadequate, and a misrepresentation of the country’s reality with regards to this issue. Guyana was once again placed on the tier two watch list.
Speaking at a press briefing at the Home Affairs Ministry’s boardroom, Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Jennifer Webster said that this is a matter that the Government stands firm in fighting against and reiterated a call to all stakeholders in particular, and Guyanese as a whole, to join in the fight against the scourge.
“There is no excuse for largely ignoring the gains made and measures implemented by the Government in addressing this issue…the Government of Guyana do not treat TIP in isolation from other related crimes…what is clear is that once again the architects of this report did not make significant progress to improve the veracity, coherence and validity of their annual assessment,” Minister Webster said.
The US report stated that Guyana is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex-trafficking and forced labour and that Guyanese women and girls as well as women from bordering countries – Venezuela, Suriname and Brazil, are subjected to prostitution in Guyana.
The Minister informed that the Government and its partners have developed strategies and programmes aimed at combating trafficking in persons. These initiatives are implemented under the guidance of the Ministerial Task Force. It includes school awareness programmes, general and community awareness sessions, training of trainers programme, and inspection of night spots and clubs, mining camps and regulated and unregulated landings.
The Ministerial Task Force on Trafficking in Persons has made repeated assessments of the agriculture and forestry sectors which have not unearthed any significant evidence of trafficking in persons, and continues to actively monitor the mining districts, domestic services and shops to ensure compliance in collaboration with the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, the Environmental Protection Agency, among other stakeholders.
The US report stated that traffickers are attracted to Guyana’s interior mining communities where there is limited government control; however, the Minister corrected that the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission has mining officers in all six mining districts within Guyana, and several other government agencies are also represented within these regions/districts.
Also present in these areas are officers from the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security, Guyana Police Force and Ministry of Health, all of whom collaborate and share information in a joint effort to fight against trafficking in persons.
With regards to the charge that the Government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, the Task Force spoke of the Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act 2005, and the enactment of a series of legislation to protect children and women.
Moreover, the National Plan of Action for 2012-2013 and the recently approved National Plan of Action for 2014-2015, encompasses the Government of Guyana’s efforts in prevention and awareness, direct assistance to victims of trafficking and criminal justice response, to combat trafficking in persons.
The Government, through the task force, has conducted a series of programmes, especially in the last year, to heighten awareness on this issue. These include: surveillance in the hinterland; visits to hinterland check points; training of members of Community Policing Groups and police officers at Port Kaituma, Lethem and Bartica; publication of an annual report; and protection of victims and in-school awareness
Members of the Task Force make covert visits to Bars and other Night Spots to observe the treatment of workers, ages of workers, to detect any cases of persons trafficked, and any suspicious activities connected to trafficking in persons. Raids on some of these establishments were later conducted, based on information derived.
Once there was sufficient evidence, relevant charges were instituted and the offenders prosecuted. In fact, for the reporting period, April 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014, six offenders were charged for human trafficking.
The Report also noted that the majority of Guyana’s trafficking prosecutions have ultimately been dismissed.
Minister Webster said that, “when the Guyana Police Force receives reports of alleged trafficking in persons’ cases, these matters are thoroughly investigated, and if there is sufficient evidence, relevant charges are instituted under the Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act No. 2 of 2005. The police make every effort to ensure that victims and eyewitnesses are summoned to attend court… it is important to note that judicial independence does not allow for Government control over nor concubinage with the Judiciary and the Magistracy.”
The issue of Government subsidies to NGOs providing assistance to TIP victims was also misrepresented in the US report.
It stated that a shelter operated by an NGO for domestic violence and TIP victims was given $14,800 by the government, while $1,452 was paid for alternative accommodation for three victims.
That particular NGO the Minister said, receives in excess of $14.8M yearly and was given $1.4M during the reporting period to provide alternative accommodations for victims.
The Ministerial Task Force was created under the Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act No. 2 of 2005, which is as a result of the Government’s recognition of the seriousness of trafficking in persons and its act to eradicate and prevent same.
It comprises the Ministries of Home Affairs; Labour, Human Services and Social Security; Legal Affairs; Foreign Affairs; Amerindian Affairs; Guyana Geology and Mines Commission; Guyana Police Force; Indigenous Peoples’ Association; Help & Shelter; Food for the Poor; and the Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions