St. Maarten achieves tier one ranking in 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report

~ Casablanca prosecutions cited as major accomplishment ~

PHILIPSBURG–St. Maarten has been upgraded to a tier one ranking, the highest level, for its significant efforts in combating human trafficking according to the 2015 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report released in Washington D.C. by US Secretary of State John Kerry, on Thursday.

The news was announced by Inter-Functional Officer and Spokesperson for the US Consulate General in Curaçao Solmaz Sharifi, ahead of the report’s release.

The TIP report is the primary diplomatic tool the US Government uses to assess foreign governments’ efforts to combat human trafficking. It does not look at how widespread the problem is or how much it has been reduced, but looks only at government policies and responses, prosecution efforts, prevention efforts and protection of victims.

The report measures government efforts based on the Trafficking Victims Prevention Act, a law passed by Congress in 2000. Standards are derived from the United Nations (UN) protocol to suppress trafficking.

The three main areas are prosecution of traffickers, protection of victims and prevention of human trafficking. Countries that have human trafficking problems are ranked into four tiers: tier one, tier two, tier two watch list and tier three.

In the space of a year (March 2015 to March 2016) St. Maarten has reached tier one, meaning it meets the minimum standards in combating human trafficking according to the UN Protocol and US Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

“It’s a very significant result for St. Maarten,” said Sharifi in a conference call. “St. Maarten is probably the smallest country ever to be on tier one in the history of the report dating back to 2000. It has been in the report since 2012, but this shows very significant progress in just a few years.

“St. Maarten should be applauded for this accomplishment of last year considering it does not receive any financial assistance from the US Government for trafficking programmes. It shows incredible sustainability and a self-capacity to combat human trafficking. It’s a strong example for the rest of the Caribbean and other small countries.”

However, she cautioned, St. Maarten is expected to continue making progress to retain its tier one status, for example to continue with prevention efforts, having standard operating procedures for assisting victims, and organising outreach programmes for incoming temporary workers.

“The result does not suggest human trafficking has been eradicated or that Government response is complete; there is still a lot of work to be done,” she emphasised.

Sharifi highlighted the Casablanca prosecutions back in November 2015 as being “unprecedented in the Caribbean.”

“Six traffickers were prosecuted, three are still behind bars,” she noted. “Casablanca is one of the biggest brothels in St. Maarten. The success of this case showed an incredible amount of strength on the prosecution side. The Bada Bing case involving a former Member of Parliament and the club owner was also mentioned in the report.

“On protection, 14 victims were rescued from Casablanca and 35 more victims were identified in the Dominican Republic. All of these victims received services.”

The report gives credit to the multi-disciplinary law enforcement teams in St. Maarten for conducting the investigations in St. Maarten, St. Eustatius, and in close cooperation with the Dominican Republic.

The report further states that prevention efforts of the National Reporting Bureau on human trafficking are “well executed and widespread” with very good coordination among the task force members in St. Maarten: police, prosecutors, victim services, customs, labour etc.

There is a national hotline in St. Maarten and education is provided to potential victims about their rights and assistance that is available.

Sharifi said Aruba and Curaçao remain on tier two, which means the islands are making efforts to meet the minimum standards, but they don’t comply completely.

“Prevention efforts in Aruba and Curaçao have always been very strong, but we don’t see the identifications of victims or prosecutions being initiated,” she said. “Curaçao, especially last year, did not identify any new victims. A woman for example who is brought over to the US and promised a waitress job, but is then forced into prostitution, that is considered human trafficking.

“I do think there is a lot of vulnerability in Curaçao to human trafficking of overseas victims. Under the UN Protocol, any person who is forced into prostitution and is under the age of 18 is also considered a trafficking victim.”

Source: Daily Herald
St. Maarten achieves tier one ranking in 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report