…admits local TIP cases could be underreported
Cases of Trafficking in Persons (TIP) could be underreported here given fear of victims to take perpetrators to court, Minister Priya Manickchand said yesterday, but she slammed a US report on the problem as “nonsensical.”
“If these reports continue to be so grossly inaccurate, not only will friendships be hurt, but as a world we run the risk of refuting every year, inaccuracies and unjustness rather than holding hands, combining resources and moving forward forcefully as one body against traffickers,” Manickchand said at a press conference shared by the Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee, and the Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Pauline Sukhai.
The Minister suggested that the US report on Guyana does not reflect the reality on the ground, and in fact suggested this country’s repeated efforts to correct inaccuracies in the report could in fact embolden traffickers.
The press conference came hours after the Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon also chided the US government on the report.
”What was most disturbing in this continuing behaviour is the US Government seeming reluctance to utilise the benefit of access to the relevant authorities here in Guyana to deal with such issues,” Dr Luncheon said.
Minister Manickchand insisted that the fact that some cases do no reach prosecution or are not reported does not mean that there are large numbers of persons who are trafficked.
For a small country like Guyana, she said hundreds of persons have been trained to act as the governmeCases of Trafficking in Persons (TIP) could be underreported here given the fear of victims to taknt’s ears and eyes in communities, and that in fact the amount of spending on raising public awareness on the issue far outweighs the extent of the problem.
Currently, Manickchand said that only one case of trafficking is being investigating, while there were three such known cases last year.
In so-called high risk areas, namely Amerindian communities in interior regions, Minister of Amerindian Affairs Pauline Sukhai said 44 public awareness sessions were held for this year.
In its annual Trafficking in Persons Report, the US Department of State lists Guyana as a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor.
Trafficking in Persons is defined by the US’s Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) as compelling someone into service using a number of different terms: involuntary servitude, slavery, debt bondage, and forced labor.
The annual report serves as the primary diplomatic tool through which the U.S. Government encourages partnership and increased determination in the fight against forced labour, sexual exploitation, and modern-day slavery.
Manickchand noted that in the 2011 TIP report, released Monday, Guyana has done better by ascending the ladder of the tier ranking system. The country has gone from a Tier 2 Watch List to just Tier 2.
Last year, Guyana called for a withdrawal of Guyana from the Tier 2 Watch List and an apology from the US government, but the US ceded to neither.
Manickchand said that Guyana has done nothing different last year to attract the more favourable ranking, and so she said the government was convinced that the US Global TIP Office has no method that is consistent in its ranking process.
The Minister said the government finds objectionable the entire tone of the report and sought to highlight seven points of what she called “untruths” in the report.
Regarding the suggestion in the report that the government’s protest about last year’s report encouraged trafficking, Manickchand said the government would not be bullied into staying quiet.
“Instead we wish to say to the US that if you are so concerned about what messages our protests about your inaccurate reports might send then you have a greater duty to ensure accuracy and honesty in your reporting not only about us but about every country you seek to monitor or judge.”
She moved on to debunk the report’s conclusion that an open atmosphere of discussion about the problem of trafficking does not exist in Guyana. Manickchand said hundreds of public meetings are conducted all over Guyana, and particularly in the regions that might be most vulnerable to trafficking.
She described as dishonest the claim that Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) and officials feel unable to discuss human trafficking because of public statements made by the government. Manickchand said this could not be, since NGOs in Guyana have never been shy to refute statements and/or “wholly contradict” statements made by the government.
In fact, she said that Help and Shelter, and the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) – both organisations having been on the record as being “heavily critical” the government on other matters – wrote the Global TIP office, rejecting certain statements in the report.
Manickchand quoted the GHRA assessment of TIP reports as falling short of internationally acceptable standards.
“The USGTIP is not hearing what it wants to hear from NGOs because Guyanese who live and work here are not of the view that we have trafficking on the scale that the US is claiming,” the Minister asserted.
She also rejected the claim that the government does not offer support to NGO’s to identify and actively help women men and children subjected to trafficking. She said the Government gives to the Shelter $10 million, and that all the money the shelter says it needs to manage and operate the said shelter, while other support is given to other NGOs.
Reacting to the claim of the report that here victims of trafficking are punished rather than helped Manickchand said that this is untrue.
She said this assumption was based on one case where a young lady was rescued by the government’s TIP department but was sent to the New Opportunity Corps (NOC), which is known popularly as the Girl’s School, because she escaped from whatever protective care was provided.
Manickchand was clear that the child was not sent to NOC because of any trafficking related instances.
On the report’s claim that the government knows of complicity by officials in trafficking, Manickchand said there is no evidence of this and if the US is aware of such cases they should make it known to the government.
“Official complicity would not be tolerated by the Government of Guyana on any issue of crime,” Manickchand stated.
Addressing the contention that the government has not done enough to raise awareness on the issue, Manickchand said this suggestion “is so ridiculous it is almost not worth addressing.”
She said Guyana has spent more money and other resources on awareness of the issue of trafficking that it is disproportionate to the scale of the problem we have here.
Manickchand says that the annual TIP report could be useful in the fight against trafficking, but that if the US insists on doing it alone, then the best service they can give to victims of trafficking and potential victims of trafficking is to be fair and objective in their reporting.
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