For the third consecutive year, the US Department of State (USDOS) has maintained T&T’s Tier 2 status in its 2023 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report.
In launching the report at the Dean Acheson Auditorium in Washington DC yesterday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the report objectively assesses 188 countries and territories to showcase the successful efforts to prevent human trafficking, identify shortfalls and ultimately eliminate trafficking.
Blinken said the United States is committed to combating human trafficking because it represents an attack on human rights and freedoms.
According to the report, since establishing anti-trafficking legislation in 2011, T&T has never convicted a trafficker.
“Courts have never convicted a trafficker under the 2011 anti-trafficking law. Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes, including at senior levels, remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action. Victim identification, referral, and services remained weak and inconsistent, and inter-agency coordination was poor,” the report stated.
Tier 2 status means that the T&T Government does not fully meet the minimum standards for eliminating trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.
The report listed measures such as implementing new standard operating procedures for victim referral and care, opening a government-funded and operated shelter for female child trafficking victims, providing the first government shelters for adult trafficking victims, and increasing the size of the Counter-Trafficking Unit (CTU).
It also stated that Government took steps to prevent trafficking among vulnerable populations, including migrant workers, Cuban medical workers, and Venezuelan refugees and migrants and initiated a new programme to assist victim-witnesses by allowing remote testimony in trafficking cases. However, it said authorities still did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared with the 2022 reporting period.
The USDOS still found that Government had devoted sufficient resources to a written plan that would constitute significant efforts to meet the minimum standards if implemented. Therefore, it granted T&T a waiver on the Trafficking Victims Protection Act from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3—meaning it remained at its current Tier 2 standing.
The report found that corruption and official collusion in trafficking crimes remain significant concerns and impede law enforcement. It noted, for example, that two new investigations involved police officers who remained on the job without administrative penalties. It also pointed out that Commissioner of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher had ordered an investigation into senior government officials alleged in 2020 to be involved in trafficking.
The report noted that authorities continued enquiries into two dozen police officers allegedly involved in trafficking begun in the previous reporting period, of which none moved to prosecution.
“Officials, oversight bodies, and outside observers consistently alleged law enforcement and security officials colluded with criminal groups complicit in trafficking. Victims alleged police, immigration, and customs officials frequented establishments where commercial sex was known to occur, from which they received money and sex in exchange for coordinating the transport of victims and providing protection for traffickers.”
The report stated that the CTU referred cases to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the judiciary. However, it found the DPP’s office lacked adequate staff and resources to deal with the matters. Observers also noted authorities did not pursue prosecution if victim-witnesses would not testify against an alleged trafficker.
As a result of these findings, the USSDOS is proposing that Government increase efforts to investigate and prosecute traffickers, including officials and staff allegedly complicit in trafficking crimes, and seek adequate penalties for those convicted, which should involve significant prison terms. It called for increased proactive victim identification, screening, and protection among vulnerable communities, including children in children’s homes and schools, migrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees.
A reduction in judicial backlog and ensuring victims are not inappropriately penalised solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of trafficking were among the suggestions.