St. Maarten skips Trip report for second year running

POSTED: 06/21/12 1:12 PM

Brothels like the Sunset Retreat Bar aka Border Bar, which was managed by Ignacio Augustin Priest, are a source of concern for officials that deal with the matter of human trafficking. Priest was sentenced to 54 months in prison on March 21 for trafficking women, robbing those women of their freedom and possessing illegal firearms and ammunition.

St. Maarten / By Donellis Browne – Justice Minister Roland Duncan says St. Maarten did not submit a country narrative for the 2012 Trafficking in Persons (Trip) Report because “there is not much to mention.” The annual report is compiled by the United States Department of State and outlines the efforts that countries have undertaken in a specific year. For the second year running St. Maarten has not reported, while all other countries in the Dutch Kingdom have.

Though the country has not submitted a narrative St. Maarten does get a mention twice in the report submitted by the Netherlands on behalf of Bonaire, St, Eustatius and Saba.

In one reference the Dutch state, “In June 2011, the Netherlands, also representing BES, signed a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Aruba, Curacao and St. Maarten to increase cooperation on anti-trafficking to improve victim identification and prosecution of traffickers on the islands. Part of the MOU includes establishment of a twinning system for officials from the four countries of the Kingdom and the BES to provide each other with technical support toward developing anti-trafficking investigations and prosecutions as well as shelter and information campaigns.”

The MOU referenced in the report was signed at Great Bay Beach Hotel during a four way consultation between the justice ministers.

The second reference states, “The central (Dutch) government continued to provide in kind support for human trafficking hotlines in St. Maarten and Bonaire.”

Duncan has no knowledge of the hotline or the support that is being given by the Dutch government. The hotline is actually run by the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Windward Islands Foundation that was established in 2007 using a grant that was provided to the government of the Netherlands Antilles by the Dutch government. The money was to be used on training and information. Chippie has also structurally assisted the foundation as the company absorbs the cost of the incoming calls that are made to the hotline.

“There is not much to mention. We have no information and no statistics. I have no proof or statistics. There is a lack of information. The one thing I could think of is the (Angel) Priest case and he was prosecuted. If people don’t complain, I can’t detect. We do keep an eye out and the checks will become more visible as we continue to build up the Immigration Department,” Duncan said.

The Angel Priest case that Duncan refers to ended on March 21 with the conviction of 64 year old Ignacio Augustin Priest, who owns the Sunset Retreat Bar – which is more widely known as Border Bar. He was sentenced to 54 months imprisonment for trafficking women, robbing those women of their freedom and possessing illegal firearms and ammunition. Some 18 months of the sentence is suspended and the court also imposed two years of probation.

Statistics

The minister may not have data, but the foundation does. Its website (www.atipnow.info) states that between one and two trafficking victims are identified each year and that there are between one and two prosecutions per year. The foundation’s actual records show it has helped nine people between 2007 and 2012.

Duncan may also not see much to report now but in January when officials in the local judiciary met representatives from the Dominican Republic and the International Police Organization (Interpol) there was a joint expression of concern over the number of Haitians who travel to St. Maarten and are then later found on boats heading for the United States via other islands. The concern was put on the table during discussions on how St. Maarten and the Dominican Republic can cooperate on immigration matters like trafficking.

Information campaign

A key part of each country narrative is the efforts that countries undertake to inform residents and nationals about trafficking. Duncan equated mounting such a campaign here to waking a sleeping dog.

“I can do a standard thing that would create alarm for nothing. I won’t make an issue for something that is not sticking out,” Duncan said.

Though there is no massive information campaign to the wider public, the anti-trafficking foundation regularly provides information to target groups. For example the foundation annually provides students heading to the Netherlands with information about lover boys who may target them. There have also been information sessions targeted to law enforcement. One such session will be held next week and will be facilitated by a representative from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office for the protection of migrants. No massive information campaigns are being mounted because the foundation does not have the funding to carry it out. One key part of the information strategy is the foundation’s website (www.atipnow.info), which was re-launched at the end of January.

Exploitation versus trafficking

Officials here are not ready to say the country has a major issue with trafficking in persons, but they do readily state that there is “a lot of exploitation.” Earlier this year Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labor Cornelius de Weever addressed both issues and called for labor inspectors to and the community to do more to help the government combat human trafficking.

“Labor inspectors must be aware and follow-up on any tips that they receive and report accordingly. They will need the assistance of the public to report these cases to them. We are asking the public to help us as we try to combat this,” de Weever said in January at the re-launching of Atip’s website.

At that time de Weever also pointed out the close calls in trafficking that the country has experienced.

“St. Maarten has had a few close calls when an Asian man ran away from the restaurant where he was working because of the abuse and the way he was treated. We had another close call when an Asian lady ran from the abuse she suffered in one of the mansions, and the case of the commercial sex worker whose client reported their living and working circumstances to the US embassy. On behalf of the people of St. Maarten I applaud the founding members of this foundation and hope that with this initiative those potential victims have a stronger voice that will help all of us break that chain of slavery and liberate all on St. Maarten from such heinous crimes,” de Weever said.

The exploitation the minister outlines is something that Atip has also witnessed and is dealing with. Chinese and Indian are seemingly the most likely to be exploited. The stories include being fired for refusing to do somewhat dangerous tasks and not being paid salaries that meet the legally stipulated amounts.

International standing

The fact that the country has not submitted a narrative means its compliance with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act cannot be determined by the United States Department of State. When the Netherlands Antilles existed St. Maarten – as a part of that five island nation – was at Tier 2. That ranking means that the island does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but that it is making significant efforts to do so. Curacao, which gained autonomy at the same time as St. Maarten in 2010, and Aruba are both on Tier 2. The Netherlands is on Tier 1 because it fully complies with the standards in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

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