US Department of State Human Trafficking Report: Interview with Frederick Bolageer, Security Policy and Assistance Co-ordinator at the US Embassy in Port of Spain
AJ: So are we in jeopardy of being downgraded?
FB: Unless significant progress is demonstrated in the next report. So that’s effectively where Trinidad and Tobago is at the moment.
AJ: Is it unusual or extraordinary that the issue was published in the manner which it was?
FB: There is nothing particularly unique to this context. This is a report that has been published now for over 20 years. There wasn’t any particular thing that made us put this forward, other than that we are mandated to do so by Congress each year. And so we’ve done this for quite some years now, on Trinidad and Tobago. In that report we talk about where Trinidad and Tobago is, in its efforts to combat human trafficking.
AJ: So my interest really is in understanding why we are where we are at, why we are as delinquent as the report suggests.
FB: Trinidad and Tobago is on the Tier II Watch List. We can share with you, what the actual report says, but I’m going to give you my summation of it. It is that the country is showing progress, but it is not showing increasing efforts over the past year to warrant being upgraded. It’s not to say that there isn’t any work being done. We’ve seen efforts being made. However, one of the main concerns of the report is this issue of official complicity in human trafficking. In the report we would have detailed our concerns about law enforcement officials who are alleged to be directly implicated, or facilitating human trafficking organisations. That was a significant concern.
Also a matter of concern is that Trinidad and Tobago passed its trafficking law in 2007 and since then we have not seen a conviction, in the dialogue. The lack of prosecution for trafficking is also a concern as well.
We also made recommendations in the report of the need for progress in implementing the national action plan against human trafficking. Trinidad and Tobago has a national action plan and so we would like to see actual implementation of it.
Another key point was the need for increased services to victims, and stronger victim identification measures. This is identifying victims of human trafficking in the society, rescuing those individuals, prosecuting those responsible, and then providing the appropriate services to those victims.
The big hump to be gotten over lies here: official complicity, the need for progress in implementing the national action plan, the need to strengthen victim identification and victim services, and then the overall need for prosecutions against those who are involved.
AJ: Is there any sense that there are constraints against meeting these objectives… does official complicity, for example, mean turning a blind eye?
FB: Official complicity is the sense of individuals either directly involved in it, or in some way aiding and abetting human trafficking organisations.
We have seen reports, and there’s been corroborating information that officials are involved, and that’s something about which we are continuing to work closely with the Ministry of National Security, with the TTPS, to ensure that those officials are held accountable and are prosecuted.
This is a very critical piece. It was something that was a major point of emphasis for the report.
AJ: So to what extent may there be rationalisations even, as to why the authorities have not taken action where this apparently is necessary?
FB: I can’t say, but it is something that we have brought up with the Government. This is not the first time that we have expressed those concerns. The previous report also highlighted those concerns as well. So it’s a matter now of continuing advocacy, in encouraging the Government to take action. And, what I do? I do security assistance. So we don’t just report on what we find. We also try to assist the Government, and law enforcement, in being able to address this issue. We have had significant engagements with the TTPS on improving their investigative capacity. Not just for human trafficking, but for all criminal offences across the board. We have provided significant support to the Coast Guard. Our Bureau of population migrants and refugees, we’ve given significant resources to support trafficking victims in Trinidad and Tobago, and we are continuing to expand on assistance as well, on the humanitarian side, as well as on the law enforcement side.
It’s not something that we are just saying, you know, you have an issue that you need to address. We are also providing concrete support to the Government.
AJ: Is there the sense among his team that there is capacity to take action, where action is not being taken?
FB: We would hope so, that this is something that is a concern for the Government. In fact, we know this is a concern for them. We’ve had very productive conversations with them. It’s a matter now of going forward and ensuring that the individuals who are complicit in this are held accountable. It’s a matter of working with the TTPS.
AJ: What sense is there from those with whom you are in discussions as to what’s holding back effective action?
FB: I can’t speak to it. I don’t know for sure. I know it is something they’ve told us that they take seriously, and it is one that they are seeking to address. But I can’t speak to exactly whatever hold-up there is. That’s something for those officials to answer themselves.
AJ: Has there been any kind of reaction from officials involved in this process to the fact that the matter has become as public as it is?
FB: I think there is concern. At least we’ve heard from officials that they are concerned about the findings of the report, and I think Trinidad and Tobago, like many other countries, are concerned about where they are in the report, and want to improve, and to become compliant. I think the reaction we’ve seen is one of concern, but the questions about what they’re doing, or why haven’t those officials been held accountable; I think it’s something that’s best put to them.”
AJ: Certainly, but the question is, though, has anything been forthcoming before or even since the report has become public?
FB: I don’t know if I could give you a justifiable, reasonable answer as to why those individuals have not been arrested and prosecuted. But we’ve seen in recent times, I think in June, a police officer has been arrested for being involved in a human trafficking ring. So we’ve seen that the TTPS is taking action in some regards on it, but then again, I can’t speak to why we haven’t seen any increase in prosecutions.
But I think it’s important to say that overall we’ve seen increased prosecutions for human trafficking in Trinidad and Tobago. So there is progress being made on that front, but the issue that has come up in the report is this one about official complicity and the need to target particularly those within the law enforcement realm who are either facilitating or are involved in that issue.
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