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Camillo Gonsalves condemns US Human Trafficking report on SVG

Camillo Gonsalves condemns US Human Trafficking report on SVG

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“If you read the Human Trafficking Report, you will get a better sense of the friends and enemies of the United States than you do the countries that are more seriously grappling with human trafficking.”

This was the assertion of the Minister of Foreign Affairs as he delivered the feature{{more}} address last Wednesday at the launch of a two-day seminar on Human Trafficking Prevention.

“Knowing all the work that St Vincent and the Grenadines has done… I think the placement of St Vincent and the Grenadines and our neighbouring countries within the Tier 2 ‘watch list’ is a travesty,” lamented Camillo Gonsalves.

The Minister encouraged persons to read a copy of the report, and to compare SVG with other countries that have been ranked in the same tier as this country and higher, so that they can see for themselves how inaccurate the report is.

“If you read it, you will wonder if this is the same St Vincent and the Grenadines that you and I live in!”

Describing the report as a “political tool”, Gonsalves said that over the years, heads of CARICOM states have repeatedly issued statements condemning the report for what they believe is flawed methodology.

He further said that the US government’s refusal to share certain information regarding the findings of its annual report does not bode well for a partnership between the US and the States of CARICOM.

“When we ask them who, when, where, why, how, they say ‘we can’t tell you that, but fix it’… we really have to question the quality of the partnership in that regard,” he declared.

Gonsalves explained that the methodology section of the report is “five sentences long”, and does not provide any information on how the research is collected, verified and weighed, nor how the sources are “vetted”.

“If we want to benefit from the report… and improve our standing and do better in the fight against human trafficking, we need an explanation of the methodology! Otherwise, how can we trust the results unless we know how the data was compiled, and from who?”

Over the years, SVG has fluctuated between Tier 2 and the Tier 2 Watch List – along with many other English-speaking Caribbean states.

Gonsalves noted that when the report was launched back in 2001, it was useful in “elevating” the issue of human trafficking on a global level, but has since lost its meaning and purpose.

“But today, in 2015, the Human Trafficking Report, as a tool, has lost its way. It has lost whatever legitimacy it once purported to possess, and it is increasingly in danger of becoming background noise – disregarded – to countries that are genuinely interested in combating human trafficking,” he put forward.

“If every year, no matter how hard you work to combat human trafficking, they say you not doing a good job; and if every year you see countries which have much worse problems than you in human trafficking… in the same category as you or even ahead of you, you begin to say ‘look, I cannot let myself be too concerned with this human trafficking report because clearly it is not based in fact’.”

Gonsalves further pointed out that there is controversy surrounding the 2015 report after investigative journalism conducted by international news agency Reuters found that “politicians and diplomats in the US State Department… were overruling the experts in human rights that were coming up with where they believed countries should rank.”

The investigation uncovered that at least 17 countries had received “political upgrades”, given the important economic connection they have with the US, despite their poor records of human trafficking.

He added: “There are more prostitutes, child sex workers, people subjected to forced labour in the United States of America today than there are citizens of St Vincent and the Grenadines. But the United States, in grading itself, has placed itself in the first division – they are in Tier 1.”

Gonsalves also acknowledged that even though SVG does not have an “established” sex worker industry like the US, and even other islands within the region, there have been times in the past when certain persons have attempted to bring sex workers to the multi-island nation.

“They have been thwarted by Immigration. And they have been thwarted by the police…”

Other elements of human trafficking include domestic servitude and forced labour – which the Minister categorically denied occurs in SVG.

“If we do, it is not something that is endemic; it is not something that represents a serious trend in St Vincent and the Grenadines.”

Another factor that Gonsalves claims the report doesn’t take into account is the fact that there are no direct flights to SVG – and that it is much easier for human traffickers to transport their victims in and out of countries that have better air access or where there is a land border that can be driven across.

“It [the human trafficking report] seems to rely on anecdotes and conjecture.” (JSV)

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