Bahamas complying with international human trafficking laws

NASSAU, Bahamas – The Bahamas continues to meet its obligations in combating and eliminating human trafficking, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has confirmed.

The Ministry was responding to the Trafficking in Persons Report 2009 on the Bahamas issued by the United States’ State Department.

It re-classified the Bahamas from the Special Cases status to a Tier 2 country of non-compliance with international laws regarding human trafficking.

“The Bahamas advises that it will continue its efforts in compliance with its obligations under the Palermo Convention and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, and in compliance with its national law,” the Ministry said in a statement issued Tuesday, June 23.

The Bahamas Government has reviewed the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2009 and its recommendations to facilitate the country’s full compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in the context of the United States’ Trafficking Victims Protection Act, 2000 as amended.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted that a Tier 2 country is one which has been determined not to have made “increasing efforts” to combat human trafficking over the past year, and (2), to be making significant efforts based on commitments of anti-trafficking reforms over the next year, or (3), to have a very significant number of trafficking victims or a significantly increasing victim population.

The Palermo Convention and its three Protocols have been ratified by the United States and the Bahamas.

On behalf of the Bahamas, the requisite instrument of ratification was deposited with the Secretary-General on October 26, 2008, the Ministry explained.

“In response to the findings and recommendations in the Report, The Bahamas notes that the report fails to acknowledge that the legislation has been enacted in compliance with the country’s obligations under the Palermo Convention and its Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, and that the provisions of that legislation are entirely informed by the provisions found under those international instruments,” stated the Ministry.

“The Bahamas reminds that the Trafficking in Persons legislation was enacted in December, 2008, and consequently, there could be no prosecution of human trafficking offender within The Bahamas as required under the Palermo Convention and the Protocol for an appreciable length of time during the reporting period.

“The Ministry also queried any finding that The Bahamas “is a destination country for men and women trafficked from Haiti and other Caribbean countries primarily for the purposes of forced labour, and women from Jamaica and other countries trafficked for the purpose of commercial and sexual exploitation, specifically in the context of its significant illegal migration problem in the first instance, and particularly as such a conclusion suggests that there is a positive evidence of such activity.

With respect to the legal and illegal migrant or temporary worker, the Ministry noted that the allegation is made that there may in fact be instances of forced labour occurring within The Bahamas with respect to such persons.

The report cites in support of this conclusion claims of employers’ coercion of such persons “to work longer hours, at lower pay and in conditions not permitted under local labour law by changing the terms of contracts, withholding travel documents, refusing transportation back home, threatening to withdraw the employer-specific and employer-held permits, or to turn the employee over to Immigration.

”“While the occurrence of any such incident is condemned,” stated the Ministry, “The Bahamas maintains that incidences of employer coercion cannot by itself ground the offence of trafficking in persons or be evidence that persons are being trafficked.

“Consequently, The Bahamas rejects any attempt to define or classify as trafficking in persons conduct which, though reprehensible, does not fit within the criteria set by Article 3 of the Protocol.

“Consequently, within the context of the provisions of the Bahamian legislation, which is acknowledged in the Report as affording immunity to and protection of victims of trafficking, there must be recognition of the fact that even if victims of trafficking are identified, the issue is always whether they will be prepared to provide the evidence necessary to sustain a prosecution,” the Ministry said.

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