President David Granger: I know the media are here; so these 15 per cent I call Ministers of the Government. There are actually fifteen Ministers and seven of them are in the Task Force the Ministerial Task Force; it shows the commitment of our government to this noble project.
Madam Chairperson; Honourable Khemraj Ramjattan, Vice President and Minister of Public Security; Minister Amna Ally, Minister of Social Protection; Minister Volda Lawrence, Former Minister of Social Protection; Minister Valerie Garrido-Lowe, Minister within the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs; Madam Chief Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards; Madam Shalimar Ali-Hack, Director of Public Prosecution; Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force; Commissioner of Police; Ambassador Perry Holloway and Members of the Diplomatic Corps; Senior Officials; Special Invitees; members of the media:
Ladies and gentlemen, since I am the last to speak, I have the opportunity to repeat everything that has been said before; so just relax. [Laughter.]
Trafficking in persons is a serious crime and a great violation of human rights; it is a crime against humanity, it constitutes a form of modern day slavery. It is an affront to civilised society- denial of human rights, particularly of freedom from human servitude.
Trafficking in persons, despite it is a born character, as you have heard is one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises in the world today. It has transnational dimensions. The International Labour Organisation estimates more than 21 million persons are victims each year; victims of forced labour.
There is, however, in Guyana, a legal framework. The Constitution of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana and the laws of Guyana explicitly prohibit trafficking in persons. Guyana is a State of laws; laws are effective, however, only to the extent that people are educated to recognise and respect them and the means exist to enforce those laws.
The Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act of 2005 designates trafficking as a crime punishable under the law, but laws are not enough. There is need for a practical plan, that is why we are here today- a plan equipped with effective measures to combat and eliminate trafficking in persons. Persons who are victims or potential victims of trafficking are entitled to the protection of the law; it is the State’s duty to protect its citizens.
The Constitution at Article 139 provides that, “No person shall be deprived of his or her personal liberty. Save as may be authorized by law”;
At Article 140; it states that “No person shall be held in slavery or servitude”.
At Article 142; it states that “No person shall be required to perform forced labour”.
At Article 141, it states that “No person shall be subject to torture or inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment”.
The laws of Guyana, therefore, make it abundantly clear from Articles 139-141 that any form of forced labour, is abhorrent. As you have heard before in 2005 The Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act was passed and you already heard the definition of that Act.
The State of Guyana further is signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Transitional Organised Crime and to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children.
The three objectives of the protocol are to prevent and combat trafficking in persons, paying particular attention to women and children; to protect and assist the victims of such trafficking with full respect for their human rights and to promote cooperation among States’ parties in order to meet those objectives.
This ceremony today is particularly important to me. I recall that as Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly I brought a motion on Wednesday 22nd May, 2013, four years ago, calling for the establishment of a commission of inquiry to investigate the crime of trafficking in persons.
I urged the government of the day to lift the veil on trafficking in persons and to stop denying that the crime was taking place; denying that it needed to be eliminated. I added then the denial of the existence of trafficking in persons in Guyana makes matters worse and I quote “There is a syndrome of dodging the problem and pretending that the persons who are being trafficked have voluntarily entered into a state of prostitution”.
I told the National Assembly then that trafficking in persons was a form of modern day slavery. I warned that trafficking was a crime of international jurisdiction and the culprits could be prosecuted for it in any part of the world. That motion titled ‘Appointment of a Commission of Inquiry to Investigate the Incidence of Trafficking in persons in Guyana’ was approved by the National Assembly, but to our country’s shame it was never assented to and it was never implemented by the national president at the time. However, things were to change.
I was sworn in as President on the 16th May, 2015, two years after and I immediately changed the name of the Ministry of Human Services to that of the Ministry of Social Protection. I also changed the name of the Ministry of Home Affairs to that of the Ministry of Public Security; as you could see they are seated to the left and right of me at the table, advisedly. I did so because I wanted to emphasise the state’s responsibility for the protection of its vulnerable citizens and the security of the public and neither of the two ministers has ever questioned the titles of their new ministries. Those ministries, I’m happy to say, are before you, are in the forefront of the struggle to ensure that trafficking in persons is eliminated.
Ladies and gentlemen, the United States Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons every year issues an annual dossier, which reports on trafficking in persons around the world. The Government of Guyana in past years regrettably has failed to implement the report’s recommendations. It has denied the validity of the reports, disparaged its findings and dismissed them. My sense of decency prevents me from repeating some of the language used to describe some of the previous issues of the report.
The Government of Guyana today is solving the problem, not suppressing bad news. We are successfully prosecuting traffickers. We are collaborating with counter-trafficking non-governmental organisations, international organisations and friendly countries; we are strengthening the inter-ministerial coordination of our efforts.
As I pointed out, seven of the fifteen ministries in our Cabinet are represented in the task force. We are financing a shelter and enhancing psycho-social services to victims. We have this year started the establishment of a corps of wardens and these wardens will be going into mining and logging settlements and along border areas where trafficking has been prevalent.
Ladies and gentlemen, the National Plan of Action against Human Trafficking, the launching of which we witnessed today, is the executive’s response to the need for the effective enforcement of the laws prohibiting trafficking in persons. Human trafficking must be confronted fearlessly, frontally and fully.
The legal proscript against human trafficking must be backed by a plan of action aimed at eventually eliminating trafficking from our homeland. The previous administration’s efforts to combat trafficking in persons often reflected the notorious indifference of indecisiveness to the crime. The seriousness of the crime was de-emphasised. Few efforts were made to combat trafficking in a systematic way.
In fact, on one occasion when an adverse report was presented they wrote their own report. That is very unhelpful. It’s like a delinquent student carrying his own report home from school. He passes everything, gets A’s.
The Government of Guyana today is committed to reversing this indifference towards the crime of trafficking in persons. We will do so by enhancing education and by strengthening enforcement in order to eliminate the scourge entirely. The strict enforcement of human trafficking laws requires action on a wide range of fronts, sensitising the public to the trafficking of persons and building institutional capacity to enforce the law. An effective plan of action to combat human trafficking must have at least two main objectives: first, education.
Public education, understanding and support are vital to success in eliminating the crime. Trafficking in persons is not fully or clearly understood by the average citizen and is often confused with backtracking, which in Guyana is a pastime in certain regions. I can’t call the name of the region because the Vice President is here, but it is regarded as a sort of joke and I think that attitude is taken from backtracking into trafficking in persons.
The public needs to understand that the range of offences defined as human trafficking must have the effect of law enforcement if we are to overcome the scourge. Public education therefore is important since human trafficking is usually an underground activity and it seems to be more pronounced in some of the hinterland areas which are difficult to police simply because the police force does not have the resources.
When you consider Region Seven, the Cuyuni-Mazaruni Region, alone that’s bigger than The Netherlands and you could imagine the difficulty the police force would have to patrol that area. The Rupununi Region alone is bigger than Costa Rica. We simply don’t have the resources but we are trying to give Mr. Seelall Persaud the means to do so effectively.
The second requirement of this plan as you’ve heard is enforcement. Traffickers must be identified and prosecuted with the full force of the law. The fear of prosecution must serve as a deterrent against human trafficking. The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution, as you’ve heard, RES/68/192, titled “Improving the coordination of efforts against trafficking in persons” on the 18th of December 2013. The resolution called on member states of the United Nations to address the social, economic, cultural, political and other factors which make people vulnerable to trafficking.
Guyana, as Minister Ally has said, “Seeks to provide a good life for all of its citizens.” That good life includes protecting vulnerable citizens from the threat of servitude, the threat of sexual exploitation and the threat of forced labour. Victims of trafficking in persons need protection. They are often helpless, they are often afraid to speak out. They often lack the resources when they seek assistance; they need assistance.
Many of the victims are being held against their will. They may be illegal immigrants and might be afraid to go to the authorities for fear of being deported or prosecuted. Victims of trafficking in persons must be provided with assistance, assistance to help them to recover and to help them to reintegrate into society.
This morning, therefore, I’d like to congratulate the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Social Protection for their work to develop this national plan of action. Collectively, it is our duty as officials and citizens to make this plan work. We now have the evidence of government’s resolve to rid our country of the scourge of trafficking in persons. Let us not drop the ball.
Thank you very much.

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