Human Trafficking a Threat to Caribbean Human Security
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(04 March 2017) — In September 2009, I gave a lecture at the National Defence University in Washington DC/USA addressing Human Trafficking in the International Context for Combating Transnational Threats. As I pointed out then, transnational threats and challenges, of which human trafficking is the focus of this discussion, also include trafficking in illegal drugs, illicit arms trafficking, and international terrorism. These criminal activities are supported by many other illegal activities, including travel document fraud, money laundering, corruption, and multiple other related crimes. Because of the linked and overlapping nature of these international criminal activities, one has to approach these challenges and develop solutions to them in a holistic manner.
The seriousness of this crime cannot be overstated in terms of human suffering and the loss of human lives in many cases. Children and women are more often the victims of human trafficking. The major driver of this crime is money – human trafficking generates $150 billion annually. It is reasonable to conclude that such vast amounts of cash gives traffickers the power to corrupt officials in many countries to either facilitate their nefarious activities or turn a blind eye to human trafficking.
It is also reasonable to conclude that Caribbean countries are challenged by the phenomenon of human trafficking. Most have adopted legislation criminalizing human trafficking but there still remains a huge gap between laws, investigations, prosecution and convictions. These deficiencies are highlighted in the annual U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Reports. In the TIP Report 2016 (June 2016), with the exception of The Bahamas, designated a Tier 1 country, all other Caribbean countries were designated in Tier 2 (Aruba, Barbados, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Jamaica); Tier 2 Watch List (Antigua & Barbuda, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago); or Tier 3 (Belize, Haiti, Suriname).
The Tiers 2-3 designations mean these countries have not achieved the required minimum standards to combat and prevent human trafficking. Tier 2 Watch List and Tier 3 countries have the greatest deficiencies and need significant capacity-building to effectively prevent human trafficking in and through their jurisdictions, and are countries which, according to these designations, have not demonstrated the requisite political will to end human trafficking. The 2017 TIP Report is due in less than four months.
Human trafficking and migrant smuggling sometimes are a part of the same scheme or criminal enterprise and activity, and the distinction between these two transnational crimes is often subtle. It is important, therefore, to distinguish between these two transnational criminal activities which are often confused with each other; while recognizing the close inter-relationship between these crimes. Human Trafficking is often defined as a crime against humanity which involves the acquisition of people by improper means. It involves the act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving a person through promise, the use of force, coercion or other fraudulent means, for the ultimate purpose of exploiting that individual. On the other hand, Migrant Smuggling involves the procurement for financial or other material benefit of the illegal entry of a person into a State of which that person is not a resident.
A clear understanding of these differences is essential for legislators and law enforcement authorities to enact laws, and to investigate and prosecute these crimes. Here are some elements of these crimes which should be considered:
In the case of human trafficking, the individual is coerced or forced; exploitation is the ultimate objective; human trafficking can either be internal or transnational; the source of profit to the criminal enterprise is exploitation; and human trafficking is almost always a form of organized crime.
In the case of migrant smuggling, the individual consents to be taken across national borders by the smuggler; migrant smuggling always takes place across international borders; and the source of profit is the fee charged the individual for transportation.
There is hardly any country in the world that is unaffected by human trafficking – whether as country of origin, transit or destination. Caribbean countries are no exception. Due to the rising number of victims, in particular child victims of human trafficking, it has become an imperative for all countries in the region to step up their games. While there have been some reports of arrests, the record of convictions remain dismally low or non-existent.
Human trafficking is now viewed as the fastest growing transnational crime with the number of victims worldwide estimated conservatively at more than 2.7 million individuals annually. It affects every region of the world and generates tens of billions of dollars in profits for criminals each year. Sexual exploitation is by far the most commonly reported form of human trafficking, now estimated at 79% of the total number of victims, followed by forced labor, estimated at some 18% of the victims. Other forms of human trafficking, which are grossly under-reported include: forced or bonded labor; domestic servitude and forced marriage; sex trafficking of women and girls; child sex trafficking; and a number of other criminal activities. Not all of these necessarily apply to the Caribbean.
The challenges posed by the criminal activities of human trafficking are enormous and complex. And, while the international community collectively through the United Nations has recognized these activities as transnational crimes and threats to the international order, many countries in the world, including countries in the Caribbean, lag far behind in taking appropriate action to combat and prevent them. In many regions, governments have not demonstrated the political will necessary to put in place the requisite legal and law enforcement capabilities to prevent human trafficking.
Dealing with the challenges of transnational organized crime requires the State to use its powers to investigate criminal activities and to prosecute offenders. Because of the transnational nature of organized crime, extradition treaties and laws on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters must allow each state to cooperate with each other in bringing perpetrators of these crimes to justice and to end impunity.
In the meantime, while these criminal enterprises become stronger and more sophisticated, globalizing their human trafficking operations; and groups that were formerly active in one region or in specific smuggling routes now expanding their geographical scope by merging, or cooperating with other criminal enterprises, including drug traffickers, illicit arms traffickers, and terrorists, governments are lagging behind in recognizing these threats. Human trafficking has become a source of choice for financing of terrorism. Thus the transnational threats and challenges facing the global community increase when these crimes go unpunished.
At the same time, many national governments have not increased their own capacities to deal with the increasing threats. Many countries lack expertise and resources to investigate and prosecute these often sophisticated criminal enterprises, and to put an end to the broad impunity these criminals now enjoy.
The vast amount of profits made by traffickers have endowed them with the capacity to use their wealth to corrupt low-paid public officials to look the other way, and in some cases facilitate their criminal activities. Hence the problems worsen, and will continue to do so, unless governments of all countries in all regions of the world demonstrate the political will and commit the resources necessary to prevent and combat all transnational threats, including human trafficking.
Human trafficking is a crime which is perpetrated in, and affects all regions of the world to one degree or another, yet human trafficking remains one of the least understood transnational crimes and is the least resourced in the crime-fighting capacities of states.
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward