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Belize’s efforts to address human trafficking lauded by US State Dept.

Belize’s government has made significant strides in addressing human trafficking. That’s according to the U.S. State Department, who moved Belize from its Tier 2 watchlist to full Tier 2 status. In its report for 2022, the report said quote “The Government of Belize demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore, Belize was upgraded to Tier 2.” The report cited key achievements from the Belize Government including convicting two traffickers and applying adequate sentences; expanding the size of its Anti-Trafficking (A-TIP) Police Unit, which increased investigations; improving data collection and case monitoring; opening a shelter for unaccompanied children at risk for trafficking in cooperation with an international organization; and prioritizing anti-trafficking funding and implementation of the National Action Plan. Minister of Human Development, Dolores Balderamos-Garcia told us via phone today that Government continues its efforts to address the issue. 

Dolores Balderamos-Garcia, Minister, Human Development, Families and Indigenous People’s Affairs: “We don’t combat trafficking because of the U.S. We combat trafficking because it is the right thing to do but because we face the U.S. ranking, it is something that we have to be very much aware of. The Government of Belize and this Brceño administration, we are making significant efforts and the U.S. looks at three Ps. They look at Prosecution, Prevention, and Protection. So the U.S. looks a lot at whether we have been able to prosecute and I think we have had several successful prosecutions and then of course protection of victims and the outreach to the victims and then prevention. You know? No. Some of the recommendations of the United States, I believe they would do well to follow their own recommendations in terms of trafficking worldwide but having said that, I do want to say that we have had a specific, very high level meeting among ministries including Human Development. We play a sort of a coordinating role but we are certainly not the only players and I want to take this opportunity to highlight and to thank the various line agencies for example, the Immigration Department, the A-TIPS unit of the Police Department, the Labour Department, and certainly the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.”

Minister Balderamos-Garcia conceded that the pandemic had a severe impact on the efforts to eliminate trafficking. 

Dolores Balderamos-Garcia, Minister, Human Development, Families and Indigenous People’s Affairs: “COVID has been difficult for us and has stymied some of the efforts that we would have liked to have made improvement on so because clearly, in times of pandemic and people not being able to come out trafficking issues tend to go underground and if I might say so, I believe that we have probably more labour trafficking challenges than sexual exploitation challenges but that is only an opinion because we are still trying to find out the data. But, please, I have to agree with you that COVID has put somewhat of a damper and again, I mean, I’m not going to call out the United States. It is their assessment and it helps us I believe. We have to be willing to take criticism and it helps us to see where we need to make improvements. But, I do want to repeat that the Government of Belize is committed and we will continue our efforts.”

Given the support from various ministries and departments, including the DPP’s office, she’s optimistic that Belize will meaningfully attack the issue. 

Dolores Balderamos-Garcia, Minister, Human Development, Families and Indigenous People’s Affairs: “Let me mention the two words that are important: investigation and prosecution. And I believe that the United States recognises that we are making efforts. Yes we have to improve because we have to work along with the police in particular on the investigation aspect but also on prosecution. Please allow me to repeat. We have the commitment of the Director of Public Prosecutions’ Office and we will continue along that line. There’s not a whole lot more that I can tell you now.” 

The government says it is pleased with the upgrade from Tier 2 Watchlist to Tier 2 and recognizes that there is more to be done to combat Human Trafficking in Belize. The Anti-Trafficking in Persons (ATIPS) Council, chaired by the Ministry of Human Development, Families, and Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, is the multisectoral body which coordinates Belize’s response to human trafficking. The council, which comprises government and non-government entities, remains committed, focusing its efforts on improving coordination and collaboration on protection, prosecution, prevention, and partnerships.