APPOINTMENT OF A COMMISSION OF INQUIRY TO INVESTIGATE THE INCIDENCE OF TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS IN GUYANA
Mr. Bond: Thank you, Mdm. Deputy Speaker. I rise to lend my support to the motion at hand, as moved by the Hon. Member, David Granger, Leader of the majority of this House. There are certain key words that I wish to point out first before I begin my presentation, which may be lengthy.
The first phrase “undetermined numbers of persons” is in the first Whereas Clause. What is clear, from research into the issue of trafficking in persons, is that Guyana lags behind in providing information.
And I must say in the deprivation of information they deprive the country of solutions to fix the problem. We cannot go about this in a harum-scarum manner. That is why the commission of enquiry is so needed. It appears as though the speakers on the Government side that preceded me are afraid of truth. But if you cannot handle truth then you would not get change. This motion is about change. This motion is about turning the tide. It is about results; it is about progress; it is about solutions. If I may adopt the definition used by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) it says:
“Trafficking in persons is modern day slavery involving victims who are forced, defrauded or coerced into labour or sexual exploitation.”
The International Labour Organisation, the United Nations agency charged with addressing labour standards, employment and social protection issues, estimates that 12.3 million people worldwide are enslaved in forced labour, bonded labour, forced child labour, sexual servitude and involuntary servitude at any given time.
“Human trafficking is a multi-dimensional track depriving people of their human rights and freedoms, risking global health, promoting social breakdown, inhibiting development by depriving countries of their human capital and helping fuel the growth of organised crime. Trafficking in persons is a crime that shames us all. Its victims are primarily our women and young children, young girls who are bamboozled whilst in the belly of poverty and ignorance. Its perpetrators are women and men driven by greed and an innate disrespect of human rights to freedom, choice, and the right not to be made slaves or perform forced labour.”
My presentation will examine international perspective followed by a local analysis and I will conclude with a few recommendations.
Antonia Mario Costa, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in a report in 2010, entitled Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, said that many governments are still in denial. There is even neglect when it comes to either reporting on or prosecuting cases of human trafficking. He goes on further:
“This Report increases our understanding of modern slave markets. yet it also exposes our ignorance. We have a big picture but it is impressionistic and lacks depth. We fear the problem is getting worse but we cannot prove it for lack of data, and many governments are obstructing, calling on governments and social scientists to improve information gathering and sharing on human trafficking. If we do not overcome this knowledge crisis we will be fighting the problem blindfolded.”
That is the point I want to emphasise that is crucial and integral for the formation of this commission of enquiry that our Leader of the majority is so recommending. We cannot be the proverbial ostrich burying our heads in the sand. We cannot be a people who do now want to pursue knowledge. Because the good book says, “for the lack thereof (knowledge) our people are destroyed.”
I do not want to say I am astonished, but this is a “we” problem. I do not believe the other side is understanding that if the Opposition, their brothers and sisters on this side of the House, were to put forward or recommend a solution to a problem, their first instinct is not to shut it down, it is to explore any merits thereof. I must say the presentations from the Government side that preceded have not examined the merits of a commission of inquiry in this regard. How could we even make the argument of financing and funding? What is the value of a life of your little girl, your daughter or your sister or your brother or mother? The report states that Guyana spent US$7,500 in 2012 on the issue of human trafficking in persons. That amounts to $1.5 million. Is this Government going to make the excuse that it is not willing? I must make this point. We talk of buildings, we talk of roads, and we talk of billions in bailouts for GuySuCo and Guyana Power and Light (GPL) what about people?
The Report had a sampling of 155 countries and found that the most common form of human trafficking is sexual exploitation; a whopping 79%. So for my learned friend to try to not address the correlation of prostitution and human trafficking is not an argument I can accept, because the report shows there is a direct link between prostitution and human trafficking. The Report also found that in 30% of countries which provide information on gender of traffickers women make up the largest proportion – strangely enough.
The second most common form of human trafficking is forced labour. The Report found registering 18% of the total composite number of sample countries. The Report also found that almost 20% of all trafficking victims are children. The data compiled in the Report found that intra-regional and domestic trafficking are the major forms of trafficking in persons. I could not help but ask myself some questions as I heard my learned colleague the Hon. Member Shadick regale us about the incidences that occurred in her country. Have we gone back into the interior? Have we gone back to Charity? Have we gone back to the Corentyne? Have we gone back to these areas to do a proper assessment? This is not a problem that we could say we addressed every three years, or every four years or every five years. This is a day to day problem and the Government must understand that resources must be plugged into the day to day problem day to day.
If I may go the local perspective and this is the report on Guyana by the same UNODC. It states that Guyana is a source and destination country for men, women and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour. [Interruption] I am not the authority on the issue, so I will quote extensively from the Report:
“Guyanese nationals have been subjected to human trafficking in other countries in the Caribbean. Cases of human trafficking reported in the media generally involve women and girls in forced prostitution. Country experts express concern that exploitative child labour practices occur within the mining industry, agriculture and forestry sector. The limited Government control of Guyana’s vast interior regions, combined with profits from gold mining, and the prostitution that accompanies the industry provide conditions conducive for trafficking.
People in domestic service in Guyana are vulnerable to human trafficking, and instances of the common Guyanese practice of poor, rural families sending children to live with higher income family members or acquaintances in more populated areas, creates conditions conducive to domestic servitude.
The Government of Guyana does not fully comply with the minimum standards for elimination of trafficking. However, it is making efforts to do so. The Government demonstrated increased efforts to identify and assist trafficking victims. There were no prosecutions of trafficking offenders and there was no reported progress on prosecutions initiated in previous reporting periods.”
This report was in 2012. So when the Minister is telling us of two convictions in 2012 there were actually no prosecutions in 2012. There were no reports on progress of prosecutions either.
“Highlighting serious concerns about a lack of accountability for traffic offenders in Guyana, the absence of formal standard operating procedures to guide officials in victim identification and protection, disincentives for reporting and working on trafficking cases, as well as lack of action to address perceived official complicity, were also obstacles to progress. The Government made no discernable progress in holding human traffic offenders in Guyana accountable during the reporting period.”
Even for this year we have only had two persons. If we had two persons from January to May is this an idea of the scourge that is upon us? If we accept there have only been two cases I think involving six victims from the Red Dragon, if we admit to ourselves that that is it then it sure is lack of vision on the other side. If you are going to say that is it you cannot sit back and rest on your laurels and believe that the Guyana Police Force is doing all it could to arrest these perpetrators and bring them to justice.
The Combating Trafficking in Persons Act of 2005 prohibits all forms of trafficking. I must say it is a comprehensive piece of legislation; the penalties commensurate with penalties of other serious crimes such as rape. But there are many challenges; some pointed out by my learned friend.
“In almost all cases the Government treated trafficking as a summary offence in the lower courts where cases are often dismissed indicating a lack of severity assigned to the crime of trafficking.”
We will continue to have this problem unless we endeavour to put our foot down on the problem.
“Perceived corruption and low public confidence in the Guyana Police Force are also problems. Repeated delays in nearly all criminal prosecutions increase the likelihood that victims will become discouraged and cease corporation as witness in trafficking prosecutions. The Government’s public insistence that human trafficking is not a significant problem in the country creates a potential disincentive for police and court officials to address trafficking cases.”
This is how the world views us. This is how the UN views us. Forget the United States; this is how 155 other countries view us; that we are not serious. I dare say that the commission of enquiry to examine this scourge will prove to the world that we are serious not about buildings and roads, but that we are serious about our people. It was evidenced that people could be penalised for reporting suspected human trafficking crimes to the police. The press reported that the police arrested a mother immediately after she reported concern that her daughter was forced into prosecution.
“However, the Government made efforts to protect victims of trafficking during the reporting period (2012). Specifically, in a positive step, the Government was able to document that it identified and assisted an increased number of sex trafficking victims during the reporting period. Officials reported that they found thirteen sex trafficking victims and assisted six of these during the reporting period compared with three sex trafficking victims identified during the previous reporting years.”
So we did better than 2011in 2012. We should be commended for that.
“For another year the Government did not invite any victims of forced labour raising concerns that Government did not employ systematic procedures to guide frontline responders such as police, mining officials, forestry officials, labour inspectors and health officials in identifying victims of human trafficking.”
I must come to recommendations. We must boost efforts to hold trafficking offenders accountable by vigorously and appropriately investigating and prosecuting forced prostitution, forced labour including police, customs and immigration officers complicit in trafficking; we must.
We must partner with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs); develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to guide and encourage our police and mining officers.
We must foster a climate of open dialogue on trafficking encouraging people to come forward to the authorities in potential cases.
We should strengthen these measures including and through bilateral and multilateral cooperation to alleviate the factors. For example, of the six that were the subject of the current two that were reported in April and May. They are all from foreign countries and the perpetrator is alleged to have three passports. This is the complexity of the problem that faces us.
The recommended principles and guidelines on human rights and human trafficking developed by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights offer important guidance for anti-trafficking efforts and we can adopt them in complete and unchanged form.
We must analyse the factors that generate demand for exploitative commercial sexual services and exploitive labour, and take strong and legislative policy and other measures to address these issues.
Strangely enough the acronym is PPP, prevent, protect and punish. Those are good acronyms as opposed to punishing poor people. We must prevent. These are the recommendations, these are the strategies. We must prevent it from happening. We must protect our youngsters, and we must also punish and prosecute the offenders.
We must develop programmes that offer livelihood options including basic education, skills training, literacy especially for women and other traditionally disadvantaged groups; we must improve children’s access to education opportunities. We must ensure that potential migrants, especially women, are properly informed about the risks of migration. We must develop information campaigns for the public in promoting awareness of the dangers. We must continue reviewing and modifying policies that may compel people to resort to irregular and vulnerable labour migration.
We must examine ways of increasing opportunities for legal, gainful and non-exploitative labour migration. We must strengthen the capacity of our law enforcement agencies to arrest and prosecute those involved as a preventative measures.
We must adopt measures to reduce vulnerability by ensuring that appropriate legal documents for birth, citizenship, and marriage is provided and available to all persons. We can, we must, we will.
In closing, I must say that no one side, no one person, no one race, no one party has all the answers to our problems. We must work on this together. I must say that for the commission of enquiry to delve into this matter, to come up with appropriate solutions, I am sure a number of the judges if they come from this part of our hemisphere, if they come from Guyana, will devote their services free, in some instances, because most of this House would have gone through (the history of) our ancestors, would have gone through some form of slavery whether indenturship or slavery per se. So this must touch us in a special way. I again offer my support, lend my voice in support, of the motion at hand, please.
Thank you. [Applause]