NEW YORK, USA — Vincentian ambassador to the United Nations, Camillo Gonsalves has said that the United States’ human trafficking report, which puts St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) at risk of U.S. sanction, “is born of a flawed and inaccurate premise, namely that all states in the world are havens of trafficking in persons”.
Gonsalves this week joined his colleagues in Washington in objecting to the United States’ placing SVG on a Tier 2 human trafficking watch list for a third consecutive year.
La Celia Prince, SVG’s ambassador to the United States, told I Witness-News last week that Vincentian diplomats in Washington are “very disappointed” by the report — prepared by the State Department.
Gonsalves told I Witness-News on Monday that because the report is born of a flawed and inaccurate premise, “the drafters … cannot allow for the possibility that any individual country is free from or minimally affected by human trafficking”.
The flawed premise, he said, is embodied in the “Findings” of the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000.
The Congressional Findings say that trafficking is worldwide and rampant, that existing laws are insufficient to combat it, and that failures to halt trafficking are often based on governmental indifference, collusion or corruption.
“The flaws in this premise are obvious. If you start from the assumption that human trafficking exists, then an absence of prosecutions for trafficking is viewed as a failure to tackle the assumed problem, even if no such problem actually exists in SVG,” Gonsalves said.
He said SVG has neither sex tourism nor a pornography industry, no brothels — official or unofficial, strip clubs, gentlemen’s clubs or any such establishments.
Gonsalves further noted that SVG is not an industrialized nation and does not have the problems associated with migrant factory workers or child labourers.
“We lack an international airport, and therefore pose difficulties as an access point or transit point for traffickers. SVG, in short, does not fit the blanket assumption of the United States Congress, which is grappling with all of those issues on their own soil.”
He said it was “simply unfair and illogical” to cast SVG in a negative light because of “a flawed assumption that trafficking exists everywhere”.
Gonsalves quoted this year’s TIPR report on SVG, which says that the “government reported no forced labour or forced prostitution investigations, prosecutions, or convictions during the reporting period.
“They fail to allow for the possibility that no one was prosecuted for forced prostitution simply because no one was forced into prostitution in SVG,” Gonsalves said.
He further said that the report “cannot point to a single instance of trafficking in SVG, or even an NGO allegation of trafficking.
“Instead, the report says that SVG is a ‘likely’ source, transit and destination country; and that a population of ‘high risk for trafficking exists.’ These conjectures, without evidence or proof, should not be sufficient to place SVG in its current tier in the Report,” Gonsalves said.
Promised cash not given
Gonsalves pointed to Section 109 of the United States’ Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.
The section supposedly provides funding to countries like SVG for drafting of laws, investigation and prosecution of offenders, the creation and maintenance of facilities, programmes, or projects for victim protection, and the expansion of exchange programmes.
“I would be curious to know the extent to which such funding has been extended to SVG,” Gonsalves said.
He noted that the TIPR gives short shrift to the tremendous efforts by the government of SVG to improve its standing in the report despite Kingstown’s on-going misgivings as to its utility and accuracy.
“The fact of the matter is that the government has done a great deal, at considerable expense, to rectify the USA’s perceived concerns. It is gravely disappointing that those efforts have not been adequately acknowledged or reflected in this year’s report,” he said.
Gonsalves further said that a separate U.S. document notes that Kingstown is “devoting significant resources” to implementing an action plan that “would constitute making a significant efforts to bring the country into compliance” with U.S. standards.
In addition, the TIPR notes that SVG participated in Organisation of American States “human trafficking awareness training” and that the government “made some efforts to prevent trafficking and to increase the public’s awareness of human trafficking” in SVG.
“However, these awareness efforts have not affected our tier placement,” Gonsalves said.
“Indeed, the TIPR itself says that public awareness campaigns will not improve a country’s ranking. This is unfortunate, since national public awareness campaigns have made demonstrable impact on a number of social issues in our small society,” he added.
Gonsalves said that the Vincentian government has felt that the country has an adequate body of laws to deal with illegal immigration, illegal labour practices, sexual exploitation of minors, prostitution, and other aspects of human trafficking.
He added that the effectiveness of these laws is not diminished because they are not specifically tailored to human trafficking.
“However, because of the aforementioned Congressional assumption that any pre-existing laws in any country are insufficient, SVG has embarked on the drafting of specialized laws in this area. This, of course, could be perceived as a coercive measure by another country’s legislature to prioritize the drafting of laws that may not be necessary or applicable in our local context,” Gonsalves said.
‘divisive political tool’
“We look forward to being moved to higher tier in the next year’s report, but we continue to seek meaningful dialogue with the USA on this issue, their methodology and sources of information,” he said.
“Also, we believe that the USA should re-evaluate the manner in which it issues its report. This report should be a rallying point in the global fight against Human Trafficking, instead of a divisive political tool that sparks more questions than collaborations in our collective quest for the elimination of this evil,” Gonsalves added.
He further said that a number of Caribbean Community nations remain surprised and disappointed by the contents of the TIPR.
“The report should be an occasion for a collective reaffirmation of a global commitment to extinguish Trafficking in Persons in all its aspects. However, on-going questions as to the data collected, transparency, statistical validity, and political influence on the American report continue to distract and divide, rather than unite all stakeholders in this effort,” Gonsalves said.