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UN urges the Bahamas to fight people traffickicking

UN rights expert urges the Bahamas to adopt an effective national plan to fight trafficking in persons

NASSAU / GENEVA (13 December 2013) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, called on the Commonwealth of the Bahamas to develop and implement as soon as possible a national action plan based on a human rights and victim-centered approach to effectively fight the growing problem of human trafficking.

The Bahamas is a major transit country for migrants attempting to enter the US, and is a transit and destination place for trafficked persons from the Caribbean and Central and South America. The scale of trafficking is difficult to quantify, given low identification and prosecution by authorities.

“The Government of the Bahamas has demonstrated willingness to combat trafficking in persons,” Ms. Ezeilo stressed* at the end of her first official visit to the country. She noted, among other things, the country’s ratification of some key international conventions and the adoption of a comprehensive law on trafficking in persons in 2008, which prohibits trafficking in persons in all aspects, and is applicable to men, women and children.

“However,” she said, “the country lacks a National Plan of action to effectively address trafficking in persons, setting out clear objectives and responsibilities to implement the existing legal framework while integrating a human rights and victim centered approach.”

The expert higlighted the need for a broad assessment of the trends and scope of trafficking, and call for the creation of a national rapporteur or equivalent mechanism “to monitor the phenomenon at the national level, but also evaluate the implementation from a human rights perspective of existing policies and their impact on the issue of trafficking.”

“Victims are hardly ever identified,” the UN Special Rapporteur stressed.

“I’m concerned of the possibility that trafficked persons may be arrested, detained and deported without opportunity of being identified and provided necessary assistance,” she said, recalling the growing influx of migrants arriving mainly by boats from Haiti and Cuba, and the government’s rapid deportation programs.

The human rights expert noted that the country’s immigration policy further deters potential victims of trafficking from reporting their situation for fear of being further penalized due to their immigration status.

“I encountered cases where potential victims were made to pay 300 USD fines in Gran Bahama for illegally entering the Bahamian territory even before being screened by immigration officers at the Nassau undocumented migrants detention center,” she said. “Such practices put vulnerable persons at risk of re-victimization if not properly identified by law enforcement officers.”

The authorities have started to include information on human trafficking into the regular training curriculum of the Royal Bahamas Defence force. However, Ms. Ezeilo noted “there is urgent need to scale this up and continually enhance the knowledge and skills of these front line officers to identify and protect trafficked persons.”

“Prevention remains at its infant stage,” the Special Rapporteur warned. “I urge the Government to address demand for cheap labour and sexual services from poor neighbouring countries and the prevailing social fabric that may contribute to increase people’s vulnerability to trafficking.”

The expert called on the Bahamian Government to take all appropriate measures to ensure that its Laws criminalizing trafficking in persons are fully enforced and that guidelines for protection and assistance to victims operationalized to help trafficked persons in practice.

“Cooperation is imperative to end the impunity of traffickers and to prevent human trafficking,” Ms. Ezeilo said, calling on the Government to explore, through bilateral cooperation, “effective and sustainable ways to combat trafficking and provide safe migration option, especially for sending countries of origin of most at risk of being trafficked.”

“I am confident that the Commonwealth of the Bahamas can become a model for other countries in the Caribbean Region,” the Special Rapporteur underscored.

During her three-day official mission, which took her to Nassau and Free-port, the human rights expert met with high ranking Government officials, as well as and the Royal Bahama Police Force and the Royal Bahama Defence Force. She also held meetings with the Inter-ministerial Committee on Trafficking in and the National Task force on trafficking in persons.

“I also visited the migrant detention center and most importantly met with victims of trafficking during my visit to the government run shelter,” she said.

Ms. Ezeilo’s will present a comprehensive report with her final observations and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2014.

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement by the Special Rapporteur: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=14096&LangID=E

ENDS

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