Features — 24 June 2014 — by Adele Ramos
Belize downgraded in US human trafficking report

Belize has been placed on a tier 2 watch list – a step downward from its previous tier 2 ranking in 2013 – by the US State Department, according to its 2014 Trafficking In Persons, which states that the Government of Belize “did not demonstrate overall increasing anti-trafficking efforts compared to the previous reporting period.”

Luis CdeBaca, Ambassador-at-Large of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, said via teleconference on Friday that, “The tier 2 watch list is kind of like a ‘C minus’ or something like that in the American grading system. It’s warning to the countries that are on the watch list that they are in danger of falling to tier 3.” (The rankings range from tier 1 to 3, with three being the lowest rank.)

As it did in its 2013 report, which suggested that Belize had been making significant efforts to ensure compliance with the US guidelines, the US State Department in its 2014 report pointed to “coerced prostitution of children,” “child sex tourism” and forced labor in Asian restaurants and shops here in Belize.

The report furthermore alleges that public officials are involved in human trafficking and that the Government is not going after those persons.

“The Government did not investigate or prosecute any public officials for alleged complicity in human trafficking-related offenses. The failure to convict and punish trafficking offenders, especially allegedly complicit government officials, remained a significant problem,” the report underscored.

The US government report said that efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and convict trafficking offenders in 2013 had slackened, and overall law enforcement efforts were weak and declined compared to the previous reporting period.

At least five human trafficking prosecutions from previous years remained pending, and two trafficking suspects to Honduras and Nicaragua were repatriated, based on requests from their governments.

The report said that the Government of Belize and partner NGOs assisted 6 victims, including 3 children during 2013.

“The Government provided the equivalent of approximately $103,125 for victim care in 2013 through placements in safe houses, including NGO-run domestic violence shelters,” the report revealed, adding that the child victims were placed in foster care.

It went on to say that, “the Government did not ensure… the safe and responsible repatriation of four additional potential trafficking victims.”

The report noted, however, that in early 2014, the first suspect was arrested under the 2013 anti-trafficking law and charged with one count of trafficking involving a child; but no prosecutions were initiated.

It also noted that in 2013, the Government amended its sexual assault legislation to make it gender neutral and stiffer penalties were introduced.

The legislation in question has been locally known as the “gender neutral rape bill,” which created controversy because there were some Belizeans of the opinion that it was being crafted to legitimize same-sex relations, currently outlawed in Belize.

The 2014 TIP report by the US notes that, “Governments and NGOs have made progress in identifying LGBT trafficking victims and highlighting the vulnerability of LGBT persons to crimes such as human trafficking. For example, in 2013, NGOs working on LGBT issues in Argentina identified traffickers who promised transgender women job opportunities in Europe, but instead confiscated their passports and forced them into prostitution.”

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