The government yesterday reacted angrily to Guyana being placed on the Tier 2 Watch List of the US government annual report on trafficking in persons.
“We are friends with the US, but this kind of reporting is hurting our friendship and really I believe is based on sheer ignorance and eye-pass and this report could, I think, be legitimately considered crap,” said Priya Manickchand, Minister of Human Services and Social Security.
She spoke at a press conference less than two hours after the report was released by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“There is no justification for Guyana being on the Tier 2 watch list this year or in previous years,” she said at a press conference shared with Minister of Home Affairs, Clement Rohee, Minister of Education, Shaik Baksh and Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon.
“We are rather bewildered by these entreaties that we must carry out activities which we are already carrying out,” said Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee, referring to some of the recommendations made in the report, including for public awareness about trafficking in persons.
Being placed on the Tier 2 Watch List has implications for sanctions on non-trade and non-humanitarian assistance. “They have been unable to sustain the kind of diatribe that they run against Guyana, transparent with numbers,” said Dr Luncheon.
“We don’t doubt that trafficking exists; whether it does to justifying putting Guyana on Tier Two and to offend this government and this nation with this tripe that is produced annually by the State Department by the most opaque of units in the state department, TIPS Unit, we have to repudiate, if we gotta go public and we’re going to be aggressive about this position,” he declared.
“There is something sinister as far as we are concerned in manufacturing TIPS and manufacturing TIPS to the extent to be saying that, ‘Guyana you’re go be on Tier 3 in 2011,’” Dr Luncheon added.
Dr Luncheon was also concerned about what he said was a morphing of child labour into the rubric of trafficking.
“I don’t believe the US is unaware of what is trafficking as opposed to just exploitation. So some of this is either willful ignorance or malicious reporting,” said Manickchand.
Manickchand indicated that many people in Guyana might not fully understand what trafficking in persons is.
“People see prostitutes, for example, who are working at a restaurant and assume that every such prostitute you see is a victim of trafficking. That is not necessarily so,” she stated.
According to Manickchand, trafficking has interdependent things that must be proven. She said for a person to be trafficked, it would have to mean that the person was “mobilised, that is recruited, transported, transferred or harboured, by means of threat, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, for the purpose of exploitation; that means someone should be benefiting.”
“Not every dancer at a bar or every commercial sex worker was not trafficked. In fact, many of them are not and they are doing this voluntarily and that’s another thing that we should address as a social problem we have. But that is not a victim of trafficking,” she stated.
She said because trafficking may not be fully understood, if you would speak with local people you would get the impression there is so much trafficking going on because they are not aware of what it takes to get a person charged for trafficking.
This is the fourth year that Guyana has been placed on Tier Two of the Trafficking in persons report.
From almost the beginning, Guyana objected to being considered a country that should attract the attention of the US and the government asserted that Guyana does not have significant numbers of trafficking victims. According to Manickchand, it was a requirement under US law that a country has significant numbers of victims before that country could be included in the report.
“It would have been unlawful therefore for the United States government to have included Guyana in that report if Guyana did not have significant numbers of victims of trafficking,” Manickchand stated.
“Will an apology be forthcoming to Guyana and other countries and to the citizens of those countries for having included them in a report in which they never should have been included in the first place? After all, that would be the decent and friendly thing to do,” she stated.
Manickchand added that the US has never asserted that Guyana’s non-compliance with the minimum standards and the country’s low ranking was as a result of failing to charge or prosecute persons who were alleged to have been traffickers, but the problem has been because the country has failed to church out “mass numbers” of prosecutions and convictions.
She said that Guyana should make no apology for this, since every citizen is guaranteed the right to be presumed until found guilty by the court.
“If a magistrate cites lack of evidence, or a victim withdraws from a matter and refused to give evidence, it is the duty of the court to acquit or discharge an accused. To do anything else would be to render an injustice to a citizen who is guaranteed a right to a fair trial and due process. The government cannot therefore ‘ensure’ convictions,” Manickchand stated.
The Tier 2 Watch List consists of countries determined not to have made increasing efforts to combat human trafficking over the past year; not to have been making significant efforts based on anti-trafficking reforms over the next year; or to have a very significant number of trafficking victims or a significantly increasing victim population.
Manickchand declared that what the report says about Guyana and the country’s subsequent placement on the tier ranking appears contradictory.
She pointed out that the 2009 and 2010 reports have said that the “…government of Guyana is making significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards for trafficking.”
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