243 women trafficked in Guyana during 2018

…judicial system still faces major hurdles – Chancellor

Trafficking in Persons (TIP) is a global issue and here in Guyana, more effort needs to be put in place to ensure that successful investigations lead to successful prosecutions. This is according to Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, who, while speaking at a discussion on the prosecution of TIP cases in Guyana on Saturday, stated that in 2018 some 243 persons were trafficked locally.
“There were 243 victims and on one occasion they [officials] went to a club…39 were found in small rooms, obviously the presumption [was] that they were being trafficked, and of course alleged victims under 18, you have 11 out of that 243. The suspects involved, if I may breach some confidentiality of the police here, you have 57 of them,” the Minister divulged.
He stated that total charges for last year amounted to 36 and all of the other cases are presently ongoing.
“Actual TIP charges as a result of those reports we have 23…the numbers of individuals charged for trafficking offences, of course there are some other offences like illegal entry into the country and so on, but actual TIP charges we had 10. For the year 2018 too we had two convictions for TIP; previous years we had zero and one.”
Minister Ramjattan explained that the regions where these cases were found are from Region Four, specifically Georgetown; Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni) and Region Nine (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo).
He added that the countries of origin from which these victims originate have revealed that Venezuela is at the top of the list. He added that 162 of the TIP victims in 2018 are Venezuelans.
“We Guyanese also suffer as victims, and of course out of Cuba there were 49. The Dominican Republic, 10, and couple of the other Caribbean countries with one each from Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, Jamaica. So, it is important that we have a handle as to the whole spectacle as it were, where the origins, what is happening with them, and how the difficulties with communicating and so on.”

Judicial challenges
Meanwhile, despite the progress that Guyana has made in terms of eradicating the scourge of Trafficking in Persons (TIP) the judicial system still faces recurring challenges in ensuring that justice is served for alleged victims.
This is according to Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag), Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, who was also in attendance at the TIP event on Saturday.
“There have been challenges in identifying who is the victim of trafficking. Sometimes we have issues where some of the victims are foreign nationals and who speak Spanish or Portuguese…There is the question of having a language barrier and interpreters and the delays in security services,” the Chancellor said.
According to Justice Cummings-Edwards, in a report from Guyana’s Chief Magistrate, Ann McLennan, it was pointed out that the police officers are instituting charges but have been unable to complete the files in a timely manner. This has resulted in the victims’ unwillingness to testify and inevitably, the dismissal of cases for want of prosecution.
“There are also cases where foreign nationals who have illegally entered Guyana or overstayed their time are afraid or reluctant to testify even because of fear of deportation of they being challenged…many victims are poor and settle for payments…many cases which are not reported because of customs or because they are vulnerable or they are simply unaware that they are victims,” the Chancellor said.
She explained that poverty has played a major role in some of the TIP cases being quashed.
“There is the issue of cases not proceeding because the defendant is wealthy and is able to pay off the victim from proceeding further with the matter or not reporting the matter. We mentioned the issue of cases where victims are foreign nationals who may have returned home before giving evidence or before sufficient information for the prosecution of the crime,” Justice Cummings- Edwards stated.

According to the acting Chancellor, it is not only the judicial system that faces hurdles in addressing the issue of TIP and, therefore, a collective effort must be made to overcome these challenges.
In relation to the challenges posed to the judicial officers in the courtrooms, she added that those difficulties need to be ironed out and solutions must be derived in order to ensure successful treatments in each case of TIP in the courts.

Earlier this year, Coordinator of the Counter Trafficking in Persons Unit, Tanisha Williams-Corbin had said that the Unit had recorded 156 cases in 2018. According to her, this trend has continued into 2019 with some eight cases reported in less than two months.
“For 2019 so far, [it’s the] same thing. To date, we have recorded eight cases of suspected trafficking in persons. 45 victims were identified on the soils of Guyana and we’re working closely with a Caribbean island and the International Organisation for Migration to repatriate one victim who was recruited in Guyana but trafficked to a Caribbean country,” she stated.
In its 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report, the US-State Department noted that although the Guyana Government meets the minimum standards, it did not provide adequate protection and shelter outside the capital for child and male victims.
It said the number of trafficking investigations and new prosecutions decreased and the number of successful convictions remained low.