The US Department of State is urging the T&T Government to investigate fully and transparently any official suspected of complicity in human trafficking, and to seek conviction and sufficiently stringent punishment of any official found to be complicit.
A US Embassy spokesperson said this on Tuesday when asked to comment on recent statements by Government and Opposition officials on the US 2022 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. The report stated that Government “did not take action against senior government officials alleged in 2020 to be involved in trafficking.”
The Embassy spokesperson explained how the overall TIP report was done.
Naparima MP Rodney Charles, who asked Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley about the report in Parliament last Friday, said he was concerned that when another report is done in July, T&T will remain on the State Department’s Tier Two watchlist on human trafficking unless Rowley acts decisively.
When Charles asked Rowley about claims in the report about ‘senior government officials,’ Rowley said his administration investigated the allegation and found it pertained to current MPs who are not on the Government side. That developed into a verbal war between former UNC minister Devant Maharaj, who supported Rowley’s claim, and UNC deputy leader Roodal Moonilal.
On Monday, Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial called for answers on who did the investigation and expressed concern about dropping ‘claims’ to distract from issues rather than give full details.
Former police commissioner Gary Griffith said the T&T Police Service (TTPS) had no report on the matter. Frontline ministers were mum on who did the investigation.
Questions were sent to the US Embassy on whether the Government officials in the 2022 TIP Report were PNM or UNC representatives, exactly when the violations occurred, what was the Embassy’s view of Rowley’s statement that his administration investigated the allegation, whether the Embassy was contacted on the investigation, whether his clarification would be reflected in the next report, the Embassy’s view of the human trafficking situation in T&T and efforts made legislatively and by the judiciary.
The Embassy spokesperson, who cited the 2022 TIP Report, explained: “The Department of State’s Bureau for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (“J”) Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP) Office prepares the TIP Report using information from the US Embassy, government and public officials, TIP survivors, non-governmental and international organizations, published reports, news articles, academic studies, consultations with authorities and organisations in every region of the world, and other sources.
“In mid-to-late November of each year, US embassies across the globe receive a data call request from the US State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP). This request describes the annual reporting requirements on trafficking in persons and child soldiering for the TIP Report.
“This request includes a detailed questionnaire that is sent to host governments to provide their input. Relevant ministries with the T&T Government, through the National Security Ministry, provide input and data about their efforts to counter trafficking in persons through the end of the reporting period on March 31.”
The spokesperson added: “The 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report covered government efforts undertaken during the reporting period from April 1, 2021, through March 31, 2022.
“The US Department of State urges the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to investigate fully, and transparently any official suspected of complicity in human trafficking, and to seek conviction and sufficiently stringent punishment of any official found to be complicit. The Department of State urges officials to uphold the rule of law and increase victim protection efforts.”
The spokesperson detailed the three main programmes through which the US Embassy and the US Department of State’s J/TIP Office are coordinating countering-trafficking in persons (C-TIP) efforts with T&T’s Government
Charles: Handle shortcomings
Yesterday, Charles said, “Given the Prime Minister’s response last Friday and facilitated by the media’s targeted approach to shifting blame onto the UNC, T&T will remain on Tier 2 status for the 2023 US Trafficking in Persons Report.
“Instead of addressing the alarming issue of government officials being involved in human trafficking as raised in the report, Rowley and certain media houses have gone on an expedition to attack the UNC based on rumours, hearsay and old talk, completely ignoring that if the findings of this report aren’t addressed immediately, T&T will continue to be seen internationally as being complicit in human trafficking.
“We call on Rowley to get T&T off this watchlist in 2023 and allow the relevant authorities to do the necessary and expeditious investigations.”
The US programmes are:
- USAID Heal-Empower-Rise Counter Trafficking in Persons (HER-CTIP) Project
Cost U.S. $950,000 (T&T only)
Duration: April 2022 to April 2024 (24 months)
Implementing Partner: IOM
*Government Partners: (1) Office of the Prime Minister- Gender and Child Affairs Ministry, and (2) Ministry of Social Development and Family Services
Objective: To strengthen and expand support services to victims of trafficking in T&T
*Key activities: Retrofit select state-run or state-supported residential homes that provide housing to victims of trafficking. These homes will receive minor infrastructural upgrades, equipment, and resources that create designated spaces for medical services, counseling, and academic and vocational training for trafficking victims.
*Specialized training for staff and volunteers at the above-mentioned residential homes that enables them to provide care and supervision for TIP victims using a victim-centered approach. This approach focuses on the needs, healing, and empowerment of victims.
*Expand the availability of counseling, psychosocial support, and therapeutic services offered to TIP victims at the residential homes and by non-governmental organizations.
*Provide TIP sensitization training to government agencies to improve identification of TIP cases.
- SAID CariSECURE 2.0 Project
Total project cost U.S. $13M of which U.S. $1.2M will be used for TIP support to four countries: Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, St Lucia
Duration: April 2022 to April 2026 (48 months)
Implementing Partner: UNDP
*Government Partners: (1) Ministry of National Security (MNS), and its sub-agencies: Counter Trafficking Unit, TTPS, and other law enforcement agencies
*Objective: To improve identification, screening, arrest, and prosecution of TIP cases
Provide strategic advisory services to governments for improving CTIP response.
Provide customized, advanced training to front line agencies whose roles are to screen and identify TIP cases.
Provide technical support and resources to improve evidence gathering to build strong TIP cases for timely and effective prosecution.
Improve or develop national referral systems to facilitate a seamless integrated multi-agency system for victims.
Strengthen TIP data collection, analysis, and reporting.
- J/TIP Track4TIP Project
Countries: Regional project: Aruba, Brazil, Colombia, Curacao, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago
Implementer: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
Amount: U.S. $3,120,000
Duration: 10/1/2019 – 3/31/2023 (42 months)
*Project description: The TIP Office has invested US$3.12 million to enhance the regional criminal justice response to human trafficking among migration flows involving Venezuelans by working in eight countries across South America and the Caribbean at regional and local levels to identify victims, prosecute human trafficking cases, and prevent the crime.
*Over three years the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is building capacity to improve victim identification and national referral mechanisms, sharing information with judicial authorities about criminal networks and individuals associated with human trafficking, and strengthening international coordination and cooperation by promoting new investigations and prosecutions through establishing liaisons between national coordination mechanisms and judicial authorities focused on human trafficking.