Attorneys and activists welcome plan for human trafficking court
Plans announced by National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds for a special court to deal with human trafficking cases, have been welcomed by human rights attorneys and activists although they had concerns about infrastructure and sustainable funding for the proposed facility.
Attorney Criston J Williams recalled that on February 24 the T&T Government told the United Nations they were developing draft policies to deal with trafficking. He questioned the rationale for the proposed court and said Hinds “should disclose the policy so we can see what the infrastructure of this is.”
He said: “How we are going to train, develop the judges and task forces to be victim centred. In principle special courts have been effective in bringing justice but we have to be able to evaluate special courts.
“This construct also seems a bit difficult if the Government has refused to accept and or accede to various request of the UN and its affiliated organisations, so we have to see the details of the infrastructure and the sustainable funding criteria to ensure it is not just a knee jerk reaction.” .
Another attorney, Martin George, that while it is heartening to hear about plans for a special court to deal with human trafficking, he hoped it would be properly staffed, resourced and able to deal with cases expeditiously.
“We certainly do not want a record, or for it to be internationally noted that Trinidad and Tobago as a nation is one which does not deal swiftly and decisively with this scourge of human trafficking,” he said.
“At the same time, we hope that the government will take this as an example to also implement special prosecutorial courts for high profile matters such as the collapsed Piarco Inquiry matter.”
Jonathan Bhagan welcomed Hinds’ announcment and pointed out that the framework for the court “is the result of the Judicial Reform and Strengthening project (JURIST) done by the CCJ and the government of Canada. The model is already functioning in other Caribbean nations.”
Bhagan added: “Even with the new court, the crisis at the office of the DPP is still a threat to the justice system and the present government likely needs to double the number of attorneys on staff at the DPP’s office and give more attractive salaries to retain highly skilled lawyers, many of whom are forced to go into private practice to earn the money they are worth.”
Activist Sofia Leon described the plan court as reactive rather than proactive and wondered whether trafficked victims would be protected and fairly treated.
“There are girls out there who are now turning 22 and are victims of human trafficking and were rescued at the age of 16 and sent to St Jude’s Home and still they have no recourse,” she said.
“What are we doing as a country, humanely, trying to help these victims move on with their lives? Absolutely nothing! Well the court, yes it’s welcomed but he did not give a timeline. He could say they going to introduce a court for human trafficking victims but when, who, where? It is not enough, it is too little too late.”
She added: “I will wait and see but I’m honest to God not holding my breath because too much talk and no action.”
Yesenia Gonzalez said she would accept anything that would help get justice for trafficked victims.
“There are different rings of criminals who are taking those victims, innocent victims, and selling them and trafficking them, passing them down onto other hands of rings asking for a certain amount of money for them to pay their debts which they are using them like slaves. All those victims are suffering right now,” Gonzalez said.
“This is getting worse so anything to help the situation, this critical, unfortunate, sad situation I will agree to get justice, to get those criminals and put them in jail. Anything good to help those victims get justice, I agree.”
T&T’s Tier 2 status
According to the US Department of State’s 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report, T&T does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.
“These efforts included increasing investigations and prosecutions, identifying more victims, and expanding training to a broader range of stakeholders. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity,” the report stated.
The report noted that the government has never convicted a trafficker under its 2011 anti-trafficking laws: “Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action, and the government did not take action against senior government officials alleged in 2020 to be involved in human trafficking. Victim identification and services remained weak, and the government did not formally adopt the National Action Plan (NAP) for 2021-2023. Therefore Trinidad and Tobago remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year.”
BY: RHONDOR DOWLAT