Long Languishing in Tier 3
The US no longer lists Belize as a Tier 3 Human trafficking country; we've been upgraded to the Tier 2 watchlist. This is news after the US State Department today released the 2019 Trafficking in Persons report today. A release says "Belize has been upgradedafter demonstrating notable improvements in victim services and strengthening the anti-trafficking police unit."
Belize has been listed as a Tier 3 country off and on since 2006 - and since 2015, we have made that undesirable list every year - joining only one or two other nations in the America's.
But, now there has been a modest upgrade and no one is happier than the Attorney General - who has been to Washington numerous times to lobby for a downgrade and what he says is an end to unequal treatment:
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte - Attorney General
"It's good news for the country, indeed. Being on tier 3 comes with many consequences, and we feel like we've been unfairly judged in the past. So, to make sure that we were making a case that nobody could doubt, we worked very hard to try and implement many of the measures that the Human Trafficking Institute had suggested. We appointed a special judge to hear human trafficking cases in the Supreme Court, a special magistrate, a special prosecutor, a crown counsel in the AG's Ministry, and the like, and then a special human trafficking unit within the police department. Last year, myself, Justice Moore, Commissioner Whylie, we travelled to Quantico at the FBI Academy to do a session with the Human Trafficking Institute to inform them of what Belize was doing. Ambassador John Richmond, who used to head the Human Trafficking Institute, was advising Belize for a number of years, along with Dave Fillingame and other members of the institute. John Richmond went and now is the current US Ambassador for anti-trafficking in persons. He was a big help, and so, I would really like to thank him, thank the Human Trafficking Institute, the Ministry of Human Development who have done a fantastic job in ensuring that the victims are cared for, and protected, and coached so that they can be ready mentally to testify in court, when those days come. It's been a big team effort, and I'm glad to see that the work that we have put in is being rewarded."
But what kind of effort would be needed to get a further upgrade to Tier One? Peyrefitte said there are a lot of double standards at play, even within the US:
"Do you ever see Belize and the officials such as yourself doing enough to satisfy the Americans, our American friends, that we've done our very best, and that we should be upgraded even further to tier 1."
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte
"I don't know. You would have to ask the Americans if they would ever rate us the highest they could rate us. I know for sure, my complaint to the Americans has always been that there are other countries who do the exact same thing that Belize does. We even do more than they do, and yet, they're tier 1, and we were lingering in tier 3. I know the US always tells us that they're concerned that people who are powerful people seem to get away with Human Trafficking crimes. And so, Belize is carefully watching the case of Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, who was charged for engaging in illegal acts at a massage parlor. Those are the same exact things - when we went to the FBI Academy, they targeted massage parlors, and people need to be charged. People need to be prosecuted. So, we want to see how the US system will treat Robert Kraft, a very powerful individual. And if he is found guilty, then we can say, yes, the US better than us in one way. But, if he is found not guilty, and allowed to walk away, then we may be in a position to accuse the US of the very same things that they accuse us of."
Commissioner Pleased With Upgrade
It should be noted that the Trafficking in Persons Report assesses the anti-trafficking efforts of 187 governments, including the United States.
U.S. Charge d'Affaires, a.i. Keith Gilges is quoted as saying, quote, "The Ministry of Human Development and its private-sector partners did a commendable job in increasing efforts to protect victims and boost prevention through awarenessWe continue to call on the Government of Belize to fully implement the anti-trafficking law by vigorously investigating and prosecuting suspected traffickers, including complicit officials, and imposing strong prison sentences on convicted traffickers...." end quote.
That's a matter for law enforcement, and today the Commissioner of Police commented generally on the upgrade.
He was very pleased when he heard the news; Williams says his police department's increased efforts at tackling human trafficking contributed to this upgrade. Williams also discussed what other plans and measures he has to further combat human trafficking in Belize.
Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police
"I am much gratified that it happened under my command of the police department and I can tell you that since I took command, my office have been doing a lot in terms of addressing human trafficking. We have increase the number of personells working in the human trafficking office. We are in direct communication with the human trafficking institute. We are currently working on a new office space for the human trafficking personells to be relocated and the office space will have secured interviewed rooms where persons who are victims of human trafficking will be able to be interviewed in a private room without others hearing the nature of the interviews. We have mounted a number of operations. We have a number of investigations going on and so it shows that with the good work that we have been doing in conjunction with human services and the immigration department, it's not only police, it's a multi-agency approach and I think that all the different agencies involved are doing their part to ensure that we move from that tier 3 to a tier 2 and are not going to celebrate yet. We want to see it goes down even further and so there is still much more that needs to be done. I was in a conversation with the DPP about 2 weeks ago and she is very much on board in terms of ensuring that the cases we have before the courts are prosecuted. Pretty soon we will be announcing a change of command of the A-TIPS unit, because I think that it is time that we look at a young, fresh and vibrant face to head that unit and so I have already given the directive that we will be changing command very shortly of that unit and the reason for that again is because we want to ensure that whatever obligations we have to the human trafficking institute that we live up to those obligations with a view to see how we can minimize or best eradicate the whole issue of human trafficking within Belize."
The US Embassy release concludes by saying, quote, "the recent accomplishments signify that Belize is on the right path to eliminate trafficking in persons in all its forms."