55 arrests, 27 new trafficking cases investigated in 2019 – US TIP Report

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For the fourth consecutive year, Guyana has maintained its Tier 1 ranking in the 2020 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report of the US Department of State, which disclosed that local authorities investigated 27 new cases last year.

According to the report, which was released last week, among the 27 new cases reported by the Guyana Government, 25 were for investigations into sex trafficking and the other two for labour trafficking. This is a decrease from 30 new investigations recorded in 2019 and four in 2018.

It was noted too that the Police made 55 arrests in these cases of sex trafficking and labour trafficking, while they continued investigations into 19 trafficking cases initiated in 2018.

Guyana reported three new prosecutions of suspected traffickers in 2019 – one for sex trafficking and two for labour trafficking. This represents a decrease from 11 prosecutions in 2018 and 17 in 2017.

The US report outlined that authorities convicted one trafficker for sex trafficking of a minor and an adult female, compared with one conviction in 2019. The court sentenced the convicted trafficker to 10 years’ imprisonment for trafficking a minor and an additional five years for trafficking an adult victim – a total of 15 years.

It was noted that the government did not report any new investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offences, although the Government screened Venezuelan women and children who experienced human rights abuses, including sexual exploitation by Government officials.

Meanwhile, the appeal of a 2017 case in which the Government required the trafficker to pay restitution without imprisonment, a penalty inconsistent with the law, was still pending at the end of the reporting period.

“Observers noted there were frequent widespread reports of physical and sexual abuse of children, and allegations that some Police officers could be bribed to make such cases “go away”,” the US report detailed.

It added that the Guyana Government did not report on the appeal of a former Police officer convicted of sex trafficking and released on bail in 2016. The matter was still pending at the end of the reporting period.

Despite training for some judicial, prosecutorial, and law enforcement officials, the US 2020 TIP Report found, trafficking and other major criminal prosecution cases took an average of two years in process, and pretrial detention averaged three years.

Moreover, it was highlighted that Government trained 221 law enforcement officers on trafficking victim identification and referral procedures, and judicial officers on standard operating procedures for prosecuting human trafficking cases with the assistance of international organizations during the reporting period.

Additionally, immigration officials at major transit points are now required to screen all arriving and departing migrants.

According to the TIP Report, the Guyana Government maintained minimal law enforcement efforts. To this end, the US State Department made a series of recommendations.

This include: Reduce delays in court proceedings and pretrial detention of suspects; Vigorously investigate and prosecute sex and labour trafficking cases under the TIP Act, including those involving child victims; Hold convicted traffickers, including complicit public officials, accountable by investigating, prosecuting, convicting, and imposing sufficiently stringent sentences; Hold Police and law enforcement officials accountable for abuse of vulnerable individuals and intimidation of victims in shelters; Provide additional protection for victims to testify against traffickers in a way that minimises re-traumatisation; and track and report data on trafficking cases reported to the trafficking hotline and by labour inspectors.

The Combating Trafficking of Persons Act of 2005 (TIP Act) criminalized sex trafficking and labour trafficking, and prescribes penalties of three years to life imprisonment. These penalties were sufficiently stringent, and with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.