Are people being trafficked in Trinidad and Tobago?
According to Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat last week in the Senate, missing persons in TT are either being located and returned home or have been victims of murder. Police Complaints Authority head David West also talked about human trafficking last week, pointing out that he was concerned about the growing incidence of corrupt police officers trafficking in Venezuelan girls.
Retired police officer David Rattan was committed to stand trial at the High Court charged with human trafficking in February 2018, specifically for “recruiting, transporting and harbouring a Guyanese female national for exploitation.” West cited Finance Intelligence Unit annual reports that listed 11 cases of human trafficking in 2017 and another 11 in 2018.
Those reports indicate a doubling of the numbers of human trafficking reported in 2014. Human trafficking, West told the audience at the TT Transparency Institute’s anti-corruption conference, “is now a part of the crime fighting conversation and very much an issue of growing concern.”
It would be unfortunate if Rambharat’s opinion on the relationship between missing persons and human trafficking is shared by his colleagues in Cabinet. It’s also a spurious response. Many of the persons currently being found in trafficking rings would not have been reported missing in this country. There is a clear need to coordinate with international missing persons reports and to share identification information with other nations blighted by traffickers.
The agriculture minister was also quick to dismiss a 2017 report by the US Department of State that showed TT’s ranking in combating human trafficking had been upgraded to tier two, debunking its sources, which is curious, because that report states that while this country “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking…it is making significant efforts to do so.” The 2018 report slightly improved that status by adding that “the government demonstrated increasing efforts by expanding authorities to collect intelligence on trafficking crimes.”
That report cites TT as “a destination, transit and source country for adults and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour.” In documentation that will surprise nobody, Venezuela, ranked at tier three in the 2018 report for the collapse of its response to human trafficking, was identified as a major source of victims throughout the Caribbean region. It’s surreal that any government official would find themselves in the position of trying to soft pedal any aspect of this odious crime.
In his response to Opposition Senator Wade Mark, the agriculture minister would have done better to signal a commitment to more compliance with international standards and initiatives to combat human trafficking.