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Monday, June 12, 2006 

12th June

Bahamas Yet To Ratify Human Trafficking Protocol
By Quincy Parker
The Bahamas has yet to ratify the Protocol to Prevent, Supress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (2000), although it signed the document on April 9, 2001.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs lists the Protocol, which is attached to the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocols Thereto (Trafficking in Persons and Migrant Smuggling), as "not yet ratified" on its website.

This protocol offers a broad definition for the crime of human trafficking, and requires countries to take action against traffickers, protect and assist victims, and take steps toward the prevention of trafficking.

The protocol emphasizes the need for international cooperation, but some critics say the protocol is overly focused on the criminal as opposed to the human rights approach to human trafficking.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reviewed legislation and government policy relating to combating human trafficking in The Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana, St. Lucia, The Netherlands Antilles and Suriname, and published a report of its findings in June 2005.
The IOM says the protocol does create common ground for counter-trafficking activities, but "lacks any form of enforcement or monitoring mechanism, so it is difficult to gauge its real effect upon the actions of signatory countries."

Of the seven countries in the IOM’s legal review, only Guyana had at the time of the review passed specific anti-human trafficking legislation (based on a U.S. model law) and only Jamaica had signed and ratified the Protocol on human trafficking.

Along with The Bahamas, Barbados and the Netherlands Antilles have also signed that protocol.
The IOM review noted that there are a number of other multilateral treaties to which the countries in the study are either signatories or which they have ratified, but that these treaties generally "lack effective enforcement mechanisms."

"Though useful as a starting point for national reforms, signatories to human rights treaties are in effect doing little more than stating agreement to principles contained within the document," the IOM report says.

"Failure to implement those principles holds little fear of repercussion."

The IOM singles out three multilateral treaties that it says have adequate mechanisms for monitoring compliance – the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and Rights of the Child (CRC).

CERD entered into force for the Bahamas in 1975, CEDAW in 1993 and CRC in 1991, again according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.

The same flaw observed in the multilateral instruments was imputed by the IOM to the regional conventions, such as the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence Against Women – that is, the lack of monitoring and implementation mechanisms.

The Inter-American Commission for Women (CIM) Resolution 1948 "Fighting the Crime of Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women, Adolescents and Children" also notes the lack of effective counter-trafficking legislation in the region.

The IOM recommended that the region use CARICOM to draft anti-trafficking legislation that each country might adopt; address the weakness in current legislation and adopt international obligations under the 1951 United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees, among other things.

The IOM study says "although human trafficking is an issue that all the governments have acknowledged to some extent, their capacity to address the problem substantively is dictated by the availability of resources and the competing priorities of other criminal activities."

According the IOM, policies that might be taken by regional governments to identify trafficking activities are impacted by the need for regional migration to satisfy the demands of seasonal labour.
This is one point in a litany of instances the IOM gave as examples of factors that might affect the political will and capacity of governments to respond to human trafficking, to which the IOM adds social ambivalence in willingness to combat the problem.

"On the one hand, much of the Caribbean is dependent on tourism for income. Aside from the problems that high flows of visitors pose for effective migration regulation, many of these visitors are coming to the region for the purpose of sex tourism," the IOM report states.

Of all the countries in the study, only the Netherlands Antilles had not as of June 2005 criminalized prostitution to some degree, though the IOM found differing responses to it, ranging from "pragmatic tolerance" in Suriname to increasingly harsh penalties in Jamaica.

"In some countries, the brothel owners seem to receive less scrutiny than the sex workers, and many irregular migrants found working in the sex industry in the Caribbean are deported without further investigation," the IOM reports.

"This, combined with a strong history of tolerated gender-based violence in many of the states, leaves female migrants and potential trafficking victims in a vulnerable position."

The review assessed the applicability of the existing statute laws in each country for "the prosecution of traffickers, protection of trafficking victims, and the prevention of trafficking activities."

In the absence of specific law, the IOM reviewed legislation that could serve as a "patchwork" approach to trafficking, including laws dealing with sexual offences, abduction and kidnapping; employment law detailing the rights of workers and the capacity to penalize employers for exploitative activities, and immigration laws.

The IOM investigated whether or not immigration officers have the legal capacity to take action in respect of suspected trafficking activities, and offering protection to victims, who may or may not have legal status.

The IOM found that the region is both a transit route for human cargo bound for North America and Europe, and "an area of destination with both regional and internal trafficking flows."

The Bahama Journal - Bahamas News Online Edition
Copyright Jones Communications Ltd. ©2005 - Nassau, Bahamas.

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