Tue | Jul 16, 2019

Not tough enough - US raps Jamaica for limp action in human trafficking crackdown

Published:Tuesday | June 25, 2019 | 12:25 AM

Jamaica retained its Tier 2 ranking in the State Department’s 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report but has been chided for not being aggressive enough in prosecuting offenders and protecting victims.

Kingston was praised for increased expenditure on the fight against human trafficking but the United States questioned the Government’s commitment to eliminating the scourge.

The National Task Force Against Trafficking in Persons was allocated J$33.4 million in the 2018-19 fiscal year – a dip from the J$34.8 million the previous year – but reported spending J$73 million in anti-trafficking activities during the period.

However, the report cited structural and other deficiencies for accounting for what it termed token success.

“The Government maintained weak efforts to protect victims. While it increased funding for victim services, it identified a small number of victims, and identified victims received minimal services before authorities returned them to their homes,” the report read.

PROSECUTIONS

Jamaican authorities reported investigating 36 trafficking cases – a 20 per cent rise over the previous period – and prosecuted six defendants, three more than in the 2017-18 period.

But the fact that nine prosecutions from previous years remained ongoing was a source of concern for the United States Department of State, which criticised the Jamaican justice system as too slow in completing cases, reducing confidence among victims and witnesses. The report also raised alarm about the absence of a mechanism to assign trafficking cases to specific judges with specialised training in that field.

The State Department also rapped the Jamaican Government for failing to nab public officials in human trafficking conspiracies.

“In October 2018, a court dismissed an appeal and upheld a trafficking conviction from 2016, though it reduced the trafficker’s sentence from 14 to 10 years’ imprisonment. The slow pace at which other cases moved through the courts hampered efforts to hold traffickers criminally accountable and deterred victims from serving as witnesses.

“The Government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offences.”

In reinforcing that the Government “did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas”, the report cited perennial concerns about the trafficking of women and children, including boys, in nightclubs, bars, hotels and resort towns.

editorial@gleanerjm.com