Gov’t task force accuses US of ‘unfair’ human trafficking review

Refuting the United States’ finding that government is not doing enough to combat human trafficking, the Ministerial Task Force on Trafficking in Persons (TIP) yesterday once more said that the scope of the problem is being misrepresented.

At a press conference yesterday, Minister of Human Services Jennifer Webster spoke on behalf of the taskforce and expressed “deep concern” that, once again, the annual US State Department TIP report “has not reviewed Guyana fairly.”

“It is noted that the report contains a number of inaccuracies and misrepresentations with regards to the scope of trafficking in persons in Guyana,” she read.

Minister Jennifer Webster

Guyana was again placed on the Tier 2 Watch List, which is for countries where governments do not fully comply with the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.

Though Webster deemed it “complimentary” that the US report acknowledged Guyana’s efforts made in regards to TIP, she pointed out that the Guyana government does not treat TIP “in insolation from other related crimes.”

“What is clear is that, once again, the architects of this Report have not made significant progress in improving the veracity, coherence and validity of their annual assessments,” she said, before proceeding to respond to a number of “misrepresentations” raised in the US report.

A major issue raised in the report was the poor level of prosecution for those involved in the TIP trade.

Though the report said that Guyana possessed an adequate trafficking law and, during the reporting period, managed to convict three offenders, all three of the convicted traffickers had been released on bail pending appeal.

In response, Webster said that the judiciary was an independent entity and was therefore not under governmental control. “The Government of Guyana wishes to categorically state that the matter pertaining to the three persons who were convicted and have appealed their sentences is under judicial consideration and the court’s role should not be usurped by others making public statements about how these issues should be dealt with,” Webster asserted. She continued, “The judiciary in Guyana is an independent arm of the state.”

The US report had gone on to mention the dismissal of cases for want of prosecution, including the cases against Ann Marie Carter in the Bartica Magistrate’s Court. While the police had indicated that the witnesses failed to attend court, some of the victims later said that they were not informed of the court dates.

In this regard, Webster reiterated the court’s responsibility for prosecution. “Once again it is important to note that judicial independence does not allow for government control over nor “concubinage” with the Judiciary and the Magistracy,” she said. “The decision to convict or not is one exclusively for the court. Reiterating for emphasis, the Government of Guyana does not hold persons accountable with jail time, the court does.”

 Changed position

Last year, the government had also rejected the US State Department TIP report, saying that it was “riddled with fabrication.” The government subsequently indicated that it was not going to comply with Washington’s request for information in this year’s report.

When asked whether they had indeed kept their word to remain separate from this year’s report, Webster said that some information had been provided to the US State Department. “It was the position that on one occasion that we were not going to submit a formal report but subsequently that position was changed,” she said. “So, some information was provided to the relevant channels.”

However, this year’s report showed a lack of data in several areas. In one instance, the report said that law enforcement officials in Guyana did not provide data on the number of trafficking investigations undertaken during the reporting period. Last year, a report had been submitted outlining two labour trafficking investigations and sixteen sex trafficking investigations. The late submission of information was also highlighted.

Webster was unable to answer any questions on these claims. “Any information that has to be submitted to any foreign government, we have protocols. The relevant agencies would submit their responses and then it has to go to the relevant ministry that is mandated to submit the report on behalf of the government of Guyana,” the minister said. She added, “That, I would be unable to clarify, whether the report was submitted on time or not. I am unable to answer that part of your question.”

Though, during the address, a number of steps undertaken by the taskforce to combat TIP were outlined, Webster refused to comment when asked if all of the data presented at yesterday’s meeting, in its entirety, had been presented to the US State Department. “I thought I answered this question already,” she said. “I don’t want to comment again on this,” she maintained.

Over the years, the TIP reports had claimed that the government of Guyana had not demonstrated evidence of overall increasing efforts to address TIP. This year’s report stated that Guyana’s inability to hold traffickers accountable creates an environment for human trafficking which further endangered victims.