COVID-19 dampens law enforcement efforts to combat human trafficking – Police

– Guyana maintaining Tier 1 status evidence of successful prosecutions – Chief Magistrate

Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the efforts of law enforcement officers to combat human trafficking in Guyana. This is according to Police Sergeant Ranatha McBean, who on Friday made a presentation at a webinar to mark World Day Against Trafficking In Persons (TIP) which is observed on July 30 annually.
This year it is being observed under the theme “Victims’ Voices lead the Way”. The webinar was held in collaboration with the Guyana Association of Women Judges and the Supreme Court of Judicature – Justice Education Institute. Guyana has maintained its Tier One status for the fifth consecutive year – this was highlighted in the United States State Department 2021 TIP Report.
The Report also noted that despite the impacts of the pandemic, Guyana has demonstrated serious and sustained efforts to fight the scourge during the reporting period. Like countries across the world, the Government of Guyana has put strict measures in place to minimise the spread of the deadly virus.

Counter-Trafficking in Persons at ILO (Guyana) National Project Manager Oliver Profitt

Luring victims during pandemic
There are restrictions on indoor and public social gatherings. In light of this, Sergeant McBean, who is attached to the Police Force’s TIP Unit, revealed that bar owners are adopting “other methods” of perpetrating human trafficking during the pandemic. She pointed out that this is making it harder for law enforcement officers to detect instances of the crime.
This, she said, has resulted in fewer inspections being done by the Police Force TIP unit, and more operations being done by other members of the Police Force throughout the 10 administrative regions. She disclosed that traffickers are now utilising other means to lure their victims.

Police Sergeant Ranatha McBean

According to her, these include parties being held at private locations, advertisements of half-naked women on social media, escort services, and victims being delivered to the homes of clients. Despite all the measures being implemented by the TIP Ministerial Taskforce to counter human trafficking, Sergeant McBean admitted that this inhuman act is still present in our society.
“We will not condone any form of exploitation. We are free human beings who should not be coerced into sexual arrangements and exploited for the material gain of others,” the Police rank said.
For her part, Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan gave an overview of the Combatting Trafficking of Persons Act, including the various offences and the punishment prescribed for those found guilty of offences under the Act. She also outlined best practices for investigating and prosecuting such matters.

At the top
Asked whether judicial officers are sufficiently trained to effectively prosecute TIP cases, she said, “We are trained and there is always room for improvement. What we try to do is a lot of train the trainers. Once we are exposed, whether the senior judicial officer or any judicial officer is exposed to any form of training we come back and we share. Of course, collaborations like this [webinar] is a sharing process and it allows for all the organisations to ask questions and indicate areas where they think there is a need for improvement…That is the only way we can go forward…”
In closing her presentation, the Chief Magistrate noted, “the fact that Guyana has maintained its Tier 1 status over the years and continues to have successful prosecutions even during a pandemic is testimony to the work being done and the progress made by the Judiciary and all stakeholders in relation to Trafficking In Person prosecutions in Guyana. We are up at the top and we are proud of it.”
Meanwhile, Counter-Trafficking In Persons at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) (Guyana) National Project Manager, Oliver Profitt said that the organisation has been working with several local stakeholders, including Government Ministries to combat human trafficking.
He disclosed that the ILO is currently executing a US$850,000 project aimed at strengthening Guyana’s capacity to effectively fight TIP. Areas targeted are Regions One, Two, Four, Seven, Eight, and Nine. Some of the objectives of the project are strengthening anti-TIP policy and frameworks, TIP prosecution Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), and improve services for victims.
The project ends this year, and the ILO Guyana is currently engaging its donors and partners with the hope of starting a similar project soon.
The purpose of the webinar was to provide information on human trafficking, investigation and prosecution of trafficking in persons cases and Guyana’s efforts at being on top of the issue. It also informed how stakeholders can work together to combat this modern form of slavery.
Over 100 persons participated in Friday’s webinar. They include Chief Justice Roxane George, Judges of the High Court and Court of Appeal, Magistrates, lawyers, Police ranks, court staff, probation officers/social workers, a psychiatrist, and journalists.