APPOINTMENT OF A COMMISSION OF INQUIRY TO INVESTIGATE THE INCIDENCE OF TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS IN GUYANA
Leader of the Opposition [Brigadier (Ret’d) Granger]: I rise to ask this honourable House to support the motion standing in my name, a motion to appoint a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the incidence of trafficking in persons in Guyana. I do not expect that this will be a contentious or controversial motion. I do not believe there is anyone, on either side of the House, who believes that trafficking in persons is a good thing, so I do not expect any political controversy.
This motion is a motion of humanity; it is a motion about the type of society we want to live in; it is a motion about our children; it is a motion about the future of our country because we all must hand over this country to our children, they are the leader of the future. Very simply I would like to propose a framework for the approach to this motion, a framework for analysis. My colleagues will speak about different aspects of this crime, trafficking in persons. I would like to propose an approach that is based on several levels. At the first level is the personal level. Trafficking in persons is a crime; it is slavery. It is very little different between what we see in trafficking and what happened in the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. It is a form of slavery; it is a form of enforcement, and forced labour.
The victims of trafficking are normally young persons, normally females and it is also a crime against our children; it a crime against the most important section of the society, that is, our women, the persons who will become our mothers and it is a crime which will shake the structure of our families if left unchecked.
At the second level of analysis we can look at trafficking at the institutional level. Trafficking in persons is a crime of international jurisdiction, just as torture, a person can be prosecuted for trafficking in any way in the world just as one day the persons who inflicted torture or, as we use the euphemism, “roughing up one day justice will catch up” with those rougher uppers. But trafficking in persons is a crime of international jurisdiction.
Unfortunately it is a crime which has been beset by a denial syndrome. There are some persons who like to say that there is no problem. In fact, at one time Members on the Government side actually rejected the reports of the United States Department of State and, as a delinquent school boy, they wrote their own report so they got a grade “F” from the United States Department. They gave themselves grade “A”, but it does not mean that there is no trafficking simply because it is denied.
Secondly - Mr. Prime Minister you are interrupting me - there is a syndrome of dodging the issue. There is a syndrome of pretending that the persons, who are victims of trafficking, have voluntarily entered to a state of prostitution, 14 and 15 years old girls, people who are mute, people who are dumb and deaf who have been trafficked into the hinterland. We were told by some excusers that these are self-inflicted wounds; that it is a lifestyle choice; they wanted to be prostitutes. It is time that we get away from that.
The State is responsible for protecting those persons, especially those underage persons, and we know who they are. Very often we could identify the missions, the villages from which persons are trafficked and taken into certain destinations. We know where the destinations are. We hope by calling for our Commissions for Inquiry we are able to bring an end to this brutal trafficking.
The Ministry, which is responsible for public security, cannot defer consideration of this serious crime any further; the Ministry, which is responsible for social protection, the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security, cannot defer consideration of this solution to this crime; the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, where our gold and diamonds are mined, where timber is logged, cannot defer consideration, and most of all the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, which is responsible for protecting the Amerindian people, some of whom are victims of this trade, cannot deny responsibility.
At the third level is, what I called, that local level and the good citizens of Bartica have stood up more than citizens of other communities to say no to trafficking… Today we must congratulate the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), the Guyana Women Miners Organisation for doing what the Ministry of Home Affairs did not do, for doing what the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security did not do, for doing what the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs did not do, going into the camps, into the Puruni, in to the Oko back dam and rescuing girls from enforced slavery. The geographical areas must be determined by this Commission of Inquiry. We know where the people are coming from, we know where they are going to and we need to put an end to it.
Finally, we need to look at the national and international levels. Guyana is developing, or Guyana is becoming a notorious State in the western hemisphere for trafficking in persons. We cannot deny all of the reports that have been coming over the last dozen years, particularly from the United States Department of State. We are participating in a crime which is giving this country a bad name. We have heard talk about patriotism; we have heard talk of nationalism. If we want to be truly nationalistic let us clean up our acts and let us remove the scourge of trafficking in persons from this country’s name.
The United States Department of State’s office to monitor and combat trafficking in persons has repeatedly reported this country and has placed this country in a state that we know certain Ministers have been very bitter about, very critical about, but the point is they must clean the slate by going into those regions, going into those areas, going into those camps and by proving that people, that children, that women are not being trafficked. It is not good enough to sit down and say this report is unworthy, or this report is unfair, or to speak to President Obama to withdraw the report, it will not happen. We need to clean up our act by removing the scourge of trafficking in persons rather than attacking the messenger, we should attack the crime.
This is a time for us to lift the veil on a vicious crime. It is time for us to listen to the cries of the young girls, and sometimes boys, who have been trafficked; it is time for us to extend the protection of the State to these victims; it is time for us to leave behind the silly deniers and the dodgers and accept that we have a problem. Unless we accept we have a problem we will not be able to solve the problem and that has been the problem for the last ten years. We do not admit that we have a problem and that is why the problem persists.
Let us, as law makers, acknowledge that there is a problem which we can solve right here in this honourable House. W can solve the problem. We can establish a Commission of Inquiry. We can get the evidence which will bring traffickers to court. We can enforce the law if we have the will; we can put an end to this atrocity. Therefore I call on this honourable House, I call on this National Assembly to declare its abhorrence at the crime of trafficking in persons to express sympathy with the victims of trafficking, to call for those victims to be treated humanely and not as criminals themselves to be put to sleep on the police floors at police stations. We call upon the State to protect or most vulnerable citizens, our girl children. Be it further resolved that this National Assembly would call on the President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, in accordance with the Commission of Inquiry Act, to appoint a Commission of Inquiry to inquire into the allegations and to determine the extent of trafficking in persons and to make recommendations for the suppression and the complete abolition of this unlawful trade.
I call on this House to do that. Thank you. [Applause]
Brigadier (Ret’d) Granger (replying): Thank you, Mdm. Deputy Speaker. I would like to start by thanking my colleagues in A Partnership for National Unity for their strong support for this important motion and also to thank our colleague, Mrs. Catherine Hughes, from the Alliance For Change for the clarity which she brought to this debate. I was particularly intrigued by the past Minister of Labour, Human Services and Social Security and the present Minister of Labour, Human Services and Social Security who, I think, made very important contributions, maybe justifying why there should be a commission of inquiry. Minister Shadick with her encyclopaedic memory provided a lot of evidence to show how wide and how deep the problem of trafficking is. Her presentation, I think, justified the need for a commission of inquiry. The matter is more complex. She pointed out that it is not just sexual but it is with labour and all sorts of things so we feel that she made a very important contribution to the debate. Minister Webster, the present Minister gave us a full catalogue of the measures that are being applied. The point is that although these measures are necessary they are not sufficient and there still is trafficking. There is a leakage, haemorrhaging in the system, and we still need to implement an investigative mechanism as my brother, Mr. James Bond, called for; a mechanism which would bring to light the problems of the trafficking in persons.
I think that the two Ministers, the former and the present, who spoke on the Government side emphasised the need to understand the responsibility of the state to protect our citizens, Responsibility to Protect (R2P), and from Arakaka right down to Aishalton we have incidents of trafficking and what we have seen in this debate is coming out from both sides, although I am astonished at the decision of the Government side not to support the actual commission of inquiry, is the need to delve more deeply into this question.
A commission of inquiry need not be something exorbitant. It need not be elaborate. It need not be expensive. It could be efficient and it could bring to light some of the problems that we have discussed tonight and bring relief to the parents, bring relief to the victims of this crime and give the Guyanese people the type of outcome we feel is best for our future to make sure that our ‘girl children’, our women, even our labourers from Abary are not trafficked into Paramakatoi.
I am very happy for this debate. I am very happy that the majority in this House seem to be convinced that we need to probe deeply. I would like to emphasise the second resolve clause of this motion that we ask His Excellency the President, in his discretion, to convene a commission of inquiry to investigate this heinous crime so that we can get the evidence and bring this crime to an end in this country. Thank you. [Applause]