Posted: Sunday, June 25, 2023. 7:31 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: This week, the United States Department of State announced that Belize would stay among Tier 2 nations in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report, allowing that despite “significant efforts” by Government actors to meet minimum standards for eliminating trafficking in persons, it has not yet done so.
Of particular issue is the apparent failure to address “official complicity” in trafficking; failure to convict individuals participating in trafficking, nor launch new investigations; and not adequately overseeing labor recruitment nor reporting investigating allegations of labor trafficking of Indians and People’s Republic of China (PRC) nationals.
On Friday, Commissioner of Police Chester Williams responded, citing that prosecutions are stalled or fall apart because the victims are unable or unwilling to cooperate due to fears over their status in Belize. He called for the illegal holding of passports by employers of their employees to be made a criminal offence: “Why would you have the passport as an employer? It must be to control the person, right? So that should be an offence, as far as I am concerned, and I think if that is done, we’ll be able to prosecute more people for human trafficking.”
Williams also pointed to the “great strides” the report does commend Belize for: identifying more victims; improving screening for trafficking indicators, including by finalizing and implementing screening guidelines for frontline officers and training officials on their use; banning worker-paid recruitment fees; conducting an extensive public awareness campaign; and improving data collection. The amnesty program to regularize the immigration status of undocumented migrants included at least four confirmed trafficking victims applying for amnesty.
Recommendations include greater investigation and prosecution of traffickers and complicit officials; enduring labour inspectors comply with the domestic law and policy on inspections of workplaces and screening for trafficking indicators, and coordination with the ATIPS Unit and Labour Department; require labor recruiters to participate in the national labor recruiter registry and conduct prevention programs with migrant workers; strengthen monitoring of alleged traffickers out on bail, reduce court delays for trafficking cases, and enable the courts to function virtually, including video testimony for the victim; increase the anti-trafficking council’s engagement with survivors, including the activities in the national action plan; institute payment of restitution and fund specialized and legal support services and be consistent in identifying vulnerable groups including children and nationals of Mainland China and Cuba.
In 2022, The A-TIP Police Unit initiated 11 new investigations involving 11 individuals, six women and five men including a police officer, and continued 10 investigations involving 29 individuals initiated in prior reporting periods; this compared with initiating 15 trafficking investigations involving 20 individuals in 2021 and five new investigations in 2020. Authorities continued prosecutions of seven traffickers – five men (one Guatemalan, one South African, and three Belizeans) and two women (one Guatemalan and one Belizean) – compared with prosecuting six defendants in 2021. But there have been only three total convictions for sex and labour trafficking dating back to 2019.
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