Saint Lucia’s commitment to the global fight against trafficking in persons is unquestioned, but its ranking at tier two on the world stage could remain forever.
The 20th Annual Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report was released last month with Saint Lucia remaining at the tier two stage it has been for some time now.
Saint Lucia, in the past, was seen as a country of origin, transit or destination for human trafficking and as such was put on the list of countries (188) of which the US Department of State included in its annual assessment of the global fight against trafficking in persons.
Tier two are for countries assessed as not fully meeting the minimum standards but are making significant strides to meet such standards.
Governments past and present have worked assiduously to implement various country- specific recommendations such as the adoption of Standard Operating Procedure (SOPs) and strengthening the Counter Trafficking Act No.7 of 2010.
However, despite those efforts Saint Lucia continues to stay on tier two, a position the country may occupy for a very, very long time, maybe indefinitely because of that one thing it needs to do but has not done, and may never do, if past incidents are a yardstick to go by.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs and Justice Mrs Elizabeth Bailey explained that not only has Saint Lucia done enough to rank it above the minimum standards, but has done all necessary to move to tier one, except for one thing, which is to prosecute, successfully, someone arrested for trafficking in persons.
“Until such time that we prosecute a perpetrator for a case of human trafficking then we are seen as not doing enough,” Bailey said.
The Department has had training with the police and sensitization workshops with various stakeholders like the health sector and people on the front line, even the hospitality sector, instructing on how they can identify signs to look for in detecting victims of human trafficking.
“In the last two years or so we have not identified any victim at all,” Bailey said.
Could that be a case where Saint Lucia is not vigilant enough hence its lack of victim identification, seeing that it has been identified as a transshipment point for victims passing through the Caribbean enroute to Europe or the USA via yachts and direct airline flights?
Saint Lucia, over the years, has identified suspected victims of human trafficking. For instance, there was a case which involved a Ukrainian woman on a yacht where Saint Lucian authorities and the International Organization of Migration worked together in returning the suspected victim to her country.
“She was not interested in persecuting and she did not share enough information with us for us to prosecute anyone,” Bailey said.
“Detection is very difficult. Even if we have the training and everything, the victims have to be willing. We cannot force them into anything. They have to be willing to give information, enough information so that we can at least prosecute or arrest somebody,” Bailey added.
She reiterated that to get to tier one Saint Lucia would have to show it had at least prosecuted someone for human trafficking.
“You could be at tier two forever or drop to tier three where you do not show that you are doing enough where prevention and awareness of human trafficking are concerned,” Bailey said.
“We have done a lot in prevention by creating the legislation that can cause us to act in regards to enforcement if the victim should be identified,” she added.
According to Bailey, Saint Lucia has in place protection regulations for victims and support services like counseling, health care, etc.
“We have all that in place, but the prosecution is what will take us to tier one. However, being in tier two is not necessarily a bad thing,” Bailey said.
The theme for this year’s TIP report is: “Looking back on twenty years of the Trafficking In Persons Report.” The twentieth anniversary is said to mark a major milestone in the history of the anti-trafficking of persons’ movement.
Saint Lucia next Thursday joins the rest of the world in reaffirming its commitment to stop criminals, namely traffickers from exploiting people for profit and to support surviving victims in healing and rebuilding their lives.
In observance of Trafficking In Persons 2020, members of the public are being called on to wear light blue, baby blue or turquoise clothing on Thursday, July 30. This colour is represented in Saint Lucia’s anti-trafficking logo and will signify a personal condemnation of this crime.
Members of the public who have any information about human trafficking occurring in Saint Lucia or nationals based overseas are advised to call the Trafficking In Persons hotline at toll free 847 or Major Crimes, Royal Saint Lucia Police Force. The public is encouraged to visit the website www.antitraffickingslu.org for more information on the scourge of Trafficking in Persons.