Tuesday, July 28th, 2015. Aaron Humes Reporting: The United States may withdraw funding or oppose new funding for Belize from international financial institutions because of a seeming disregard for attending to the problem of trafficking in persons, the State Department reports, via Amandala.
Belize was among 18 countries downgraded this year, including Belarus, Comoros, and the Marshall Islands. Last year, 2014, Belize was placed on the tier 2 watch list, the stage before the final downgrade it received this year; it had been on that list for seven years after twice being ranked tier 3 in 2003 and 2006.
Governments of countries on tier 3 may be subject to certain restrictions on bilateral assistance, whereby the US government may withhold or withdraw non-humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance.
Also, some Tier 3 countries may not receive funding for government employees’ participation in educational and cultural exchange programs, and the US may also oppose requests for the provision of assistance (except for humanitarian, trade-related, and certain development-related assistance) made to international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
In explaining Belize’s ranking, the 2015 TIP report contends that, “The Government of Belize does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so.” It cites no new investigations or prosecutions initiated in 2014 and the stalled investigations reported from previous years.
It claims that “Many off-duty police officers provide security for sex trade locales, which risks inhibiting victims from coming forward and law enforcement’s willingness to investigate allegations of trafficking in the sex trade.”
The report notes that in June 2014, 12 women were arrested and imprisoned after a raid on a bar without the women being screened for trafficking indicators, a practice that denied potential victims an opportunity to disclose exploitation.
During that same month, the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons issued a report based on an official visit to Belize to assess progress and challenges in combating human trafficking. That report cited concerns ranging from the absence of comprehensive victim identification protocols to the criminalization of immigrants leading to the detention and deportation of potential victims.
The TIP report says that while Belizean women and girls were subjected to sex trafficking by family members, the Government has not arrested family members engaged in this form of trafficking.
The report makes specific recommendations for Belize, including calls for Belize to “proactively [implement the anti-trafficking law by vigorously investigating and prosecuting suspected traffickers; and] publicly acknowledge and condemn instances of official complicity and take steps to hold officials complicit in trafficking accountable…”
It also calls on Belize to implement procedures to take trafficking victims to a safe location while conducting victim identification interviews, as victims often first appear as immigration violators and are reluctant to disclose details of their exploitation in a detention setting or post-raid environment.
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