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Aug 1, 2006

O.A.S. trains officials to fight human trafficking

Story PictureHuman trafficking: it’s an interesting story to cover because it’s really two stories. The first is the phenomenon of trafficking itself and how serious a problem it is or isn’t. The second involves the Belize government’s fawningly desperate response to Uncle Sam’s admonitions to do better at curbing it. Today’s training session at the U.W.I. massaged both sides of the issue.

Anita Zetina, Chairperson, Anti?trafficking in Persons Committee
?Education and public awareness is very key to prevent and also to train our key personnel in the different entities to be able to identify, to be able to know when somebody perhaps is a potential victim of trafficking.?

Jacqueline Godwin, Reporting
Three months after Belize officially became a member of the Latin American Network for Missing Persons today key participants in that process are being trained how to use the internet based programme. The course is hosted by the National Organization for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NOPCAN) in conjunction with the Organization of American States and Belize?s Anti-Trafficking in Persons Committee.

Anita Zetina
?We are working very closely with the NGO community. We are working very closely as ministries to put an end to it, because we believe that that is the right thing to do. Nobody should be exploited.?

Fernando Garcia Robles, Coordinator, O.A.S.
?We need to think again and realize more than ever that right now in the twenty-first century trafficking of persons is a new form of slavery.?

The training of trainers session will arm the participants–mainly law enforcement officials–with the information to help them be able to identify victims and perpetrators of the crime. The police, customs and immigration officers are then expected to include the training in their work place. This latest initiative?aside from being the right thing to do–is also one more effort to get Belize off the tier three list established by the U.S. Department of State in its annual investigation into worldwide human trafficking. Is progress being made? Police Commissioner Gerald Westby believes the answer is yes.

Gerald Westby, Police Commissioner
?The police and other organizations have conducted a number of operations targeting would be traffickers. As a result of these operations, several persons were detained and charged for offences against trafficking in persons and immigration act and we expect some convictions very shortly.?

Well known brothels like Raul?s Rose Garden on the Northern highway have been raided. In May, five year old ?Diana? was returned to her family in El Salvador after it was believed the little girl was smuggled into Belize on her way to the United States.

Stacie Hankins, Political officer, U.S. Embassy
?Belize clearly has shown a commitment to combating trafficking in persons. You can see that in the recent public service announcements, in the training courses that have been offered and the recent reports of operations that have been conducted and interviews that have been conducted to determine whether or not women and children had been trafficked to Belize.?

?There was team here last week taking a look at the progress that the Government of Belize has made. I think they left with a good impression.?

But according to the United States Embassy?s political officer, Stacie Hankins, we will not know until sometime next month if Belize has been dropped from the special watch list.

Stacie Hankins
?I believe that the U.S. Congressional mandate is that a recommendation has to be made within ninety days of the release of the Trafficking in Persons Report. The report was released in early June, so the recommendations and decision should come in September.?

Officials here remain cautiously optimistic.

Anita Zetina
?I can?t readily say if we will be dropped off the list, but I know we have been working hard to ensure that happens. But we do not determine that on our own.?

?I believe that we have been doing the right thing all along. I just think we probably were not doing enough, and that is why we were placed on that Tier Three. I also think in the last sixty days we have stepped up our efforts. We want to continue in that regard to combat the issue of human trafficking in Belize.?

It is expected that as a result of the training of trainers session a total of one hundred and thirty law enforcement officers and social service professionals countrywide will receive further instruction.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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