Houston - The US Department of State will release the Trafficking in Persons report in June, it will be the second report issued under a Trump administration.
The TIP report has been issued every year since 2001, it effectively monitors the efforts of over 187 countries globally to combat the scourge of human trafficking and ranks the countries’ compliance with international humanitarian law.
When the first report was published in 2001, the US Department of State heralded the document as “the world’s most comprehensive resource of governmental anti-human trafficking efforts.”
Countries are essentially placed into four categories of compliance- tier 1, tier 2, tier 2 watch list, or tier 3—depending upon whether they meet minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), and whether the number of trafficking victims in their country is increasing.
Countries categorized as tier 3 have made no effort to comply with minimum standards of the TVPA, and maybe eventually subject to U.S. sanctions.
In declaring January Human Trafficking Awareness Month, President Donald Trump vowed to redouble efforts to put an end to modern day slavery.
He also reiterated the importance for international collaboration in eradicating the crime
In that address he announced “The Department of State has contributed $25 million to the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, because of the critical need for cross-nation collaborative action to counter human trafficking.”
The TIP report is an essential component of assessing the effectiveness of the campaigns to end human trafficking.
The report was designed to be a tool in the anti-trafficking movement, but since its first publication, its effectiveness and objectivity have come under critique.
The findings are published globally but many believe the document is a politically charged tool being issued by Big Brother.
US Department vs NGOs
As part of the sensitization campaign in recognition of Human Trafficking Awareness Month, the Foreign Press Association arranged a meeting between a group of international journalists and Officials from the US Department of Justice to gain a greater insight into the data collection process and usefulness of the report.
Officials from the Department of Justice are adamant “There are no political considerations in the TIP report.”
Officials state they work closely with the post embassies of the counties, a number of NGOs, the media and request country-specific information from the government in question.
There has been criticism in the past about the tier system and cultural relevance with some arguing that not enough is done to consider the cultural context.
But officials from the department are countering the statements saying the information is not only assimilated from government sources but questions are asked of NGOs, academics, activists and media in the particular country.
After the data is collated and quantified in the Washington TIP office it is then sent the Secretary of the State and then released globally.But NGOs differ over the relevance of the report and its usefulness in eradicating the stain of human trafficking on modern day society.
Martina Vanderberg, an attorney attached to the Freedom Network, chided the authors of the TIP report saying it’s superficial and there isn’t enough analytical data to support the movements in the tier ranking.
“ We see countries moving and there are terms like increased prosecutions and legislative framework. I would like journalists to ask what are these prosecutions are they lumping all into one, victim and perpetrator?”
Vabderberg says a “sanitized” version of the report is released into the public domain and there needs to be more detail.
“The problem with the exclusion of a thorough explanation of methodology is that organizations, researchers, and governments cannot trust an organization’s results unless they know how they got their data.
There are footnotes and detailed explanations in the report sent to Washington, we all need to see it as well.”
Courtney House, which is another NGO based in Washington, was started by sex trafficking survivor Tina Frundt.
During the reporting tour, Frundt spoke with reporters about her experience as well as efforts in the U.S to combat the modern day slavery.
When asked about the TIP report Frudnt was also critical of the findings saying “it does little for victims.”
She says “we don’t need a report highlighting our difference, we don’t need more division. How does this report help us the survivors and those working to eradiate the problem.”
Local Activists speak out
Nafeesa Mohammed, who worked as a legal consultant in the office of the Attorney General believes the report is useful and needed.
But she also believes there needs to be more detail.
“I think the Report is very useful but more needs to be done to monitor and improve our efforts.
Whilst the economic downturn has led to a reduction in the CTU funding, we have not been achieving in certain areas. Even though some persons have been charged, what has been the outcome? Have we had any successful prosecutions that have led to convictions? Citizens have real doubts about the bona fide within some of our law enforcement agencies. The underworld seem to have their tentacles all over the place.”
She does see this need for a holistic solution saying “there needs to be greater collaboration amongst key stakeholders including the media.”
Activist Johnathan Bhagan says the report is “a useful gauge of how far Trinidad and Tobago has gotten to defeat this scourge.”
He says the 2017 report exposed gaps in the existing system “ The report for 2017 notes a slash in funding for the counter-trafficking unit which should be given top priority given the state of crime in the country.”
He is hopeful that the current economic reality will force the political directorate to make more informed decisions before it’s too late.
“Resources spent on prosecuting lesser crimes eg small amounts of marijuana and other non-violent offences should be refocused on human trafficking but our political system isn’t proactive for such measures.”
Trinidad and Tobago
In 2017, this country was upgraded from Tier2 watch list category to Tier 2.
In its analysis, the US Department of State cited “The Government of Trinidad and Tobago does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increased efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Trinidad and Tobago was upgraded to Tier 2.
The government demonstrated increased efforts by adopting and beginning to implement a new national action plan for 2016-2020, advancing prosecutions to the high court, addressing inefficiencies in the judicial system, and identifying more victims. It also changed immigration procedures to increase accountability and minimize the opportunities for immigration officials to receive bribes. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. It has yet to secure a conviction under its anti-trafficking law.
The government decreased funding for its anti-trafficking unit and victim care. Victims were not provided specialized services, including during legal proceedings. The government did not have policies or laws regulating foreign labor recruiters and had no basis for holding them civilly and criminally liable for fraudulent recruitment.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including complicit government officials; train law enforcement and prosecutors in proactively identifying, obtaining, preserving, and corroborating evidence; provide adequate funding for robust victim services and anti-trafficking efforts; improve coordination and communication between the counter-trafficking unit, relevant agencies, and NGOs; implement procedures to guide front-line officials in the identification and referral of potential sex and labor trafficking victims, especially among foreign women in prostitution, migrant workers, and children; improve regulation of private labor recruitment agencies; and raise public awareness, especially among the migrant population, about forced labor.
When contacted Attorney General Faris Al Wari believes the country would maintain its Tier 2 ratings in the next report.
When asked about his expectations the AG stated “ the administration has done a massive amount of work in relation to this and we have maintained the momentum.”
There is no other document like the TIP report globally and its primary purpose is shedding light on the issue of human trafficking. Hopefully governments and NGOs will use it as a tool to collaborate to end slavery worldwide.
Article written by Hema Ramkissoon. Hema is participating in a reporting tour in the U.S on Human Trafficking. The tour is organized by the US Department of State and FPC.