Gonsalves rejects US report on Human Trafficking in SVG
June 27, 2014

Gonsalves rejects US report on Human Trafficking in SVG

The 2014 report on Human Trafficking in St Vincent and the Grenadines, released by the US Department of State, has been rejected by Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves.{{more}}

During the ceremony to officially open the United States funded coastguard base in Canouan, the Prime Minister addressed the report that placed this country on a tier two watch list.

According to the Department’s website, the tier two watch list includes countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s (Trafficking Victims Protection Act) minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards, and for which: the absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing, and there is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year, including increased investigations, prosecution, and convictions of trafficking crimes, increased assistance to victims, and decreasing evidence of complicity in severe forms of trafficking by government officials; or the determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional steps over the next year.

The report stated that where this country is concerned: “St Vincent and the Grenadines is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. NGOs and local government officials report that some adults pressure children under the age of 18 to provide sex acts to men in exchange for money or gifts; third-party prostitution of children under 18 is a form of human trafficking.” The report went on to state that: “Local officials and NGOs have also raised concerns regarding foreign women engaged in prostitution or foreign workers subjected to forced labor in or transiting through the country; foreign workers employed by small, foreign-owned companies have been identified as particularly vulnerable to trafficking. Men, women, and children remain vulnerable to forced labor in the country, primarily in the agriculture sector.”

According to the report: “The Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government conducted three trafficking investigations during the year and increased its anti-trafficking awareness efforts in schools. Despite these efforts, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing anti-trafficking efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is placed on tier two Watch List. It did not prosecute or convict any trafficking offenders. The government neither demonstrated proactive victim identification efforts nor identified or referred any trafficking victims for care. This is a decline from the previous year when it identified five potential trafficking victims.

These findings did not sit well with Gonsalves, who said that his administration disagreed very strongly with the designation of St Vincent and the Grenadines as a source and destination for trafficking in persons.

“The fact that we have not prosecuted anyone in the last year doesn’t mean that we have not identified potential trafficking victims. We cannot prosecute an offender if there is no crime committed during the reporting period.

“Three investigations were initiated, compared to five in 2013. We can only arrest and charge if there is sufficient evidence to do so and there is an independent office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and we continue to be very proactive in identifying any victim of trafficking and we carry out a widespread sensitization programme.”

The Prime Minister pointed out that between April 2013 and February 2014, the local anti-trafficking unit in the Royal St Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force conducted awareness drives, which reached more than 8,000 students and over 500 teachers.

He said that this number amounted to nearly 40 per cent of the student population, and he did not know if the United States had sensitized that amount of its school population with regard to human trafficking during the period.

“I make this not as a criticism, but simply to say what the facts are and to do the comparison,” Gonsalves added.

“The comments that I have made in this regard is not in any way to cast any aspersions on the integrity of those who make the assessment, but only that with the facts before us, I think an objective analysis would show that that assessment would be found mistaken.

“And when friends make mistakes we correct them together. I don’t want any declaration to be made in public that a mistake has been made; what I am interested in is if there are problems that we solve them together,” he said.(JJ)