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OAS explores the possibility of a witness protection program in Belize

A workshop hosted by the Organization of American States (OAS) in collaboration with the Government of Belize through the office of the Attorney General Ministry ended today.  The purpose of the workshop was to strengthen the human and institutional capacities in the application of sub-regional instruments in order to protect victims, witnesses and other persons affected by organized crime. Love News spoke with Starret Greene, the Representative of the General Secretariat of the OAS.

Starret Greene – Representative of the General Secretariat of OAS

“One of the things that we want to do by having this program in Belize is to provide building capacity and training. We would have wanted to have more participants because we believe that the more people who are trained the better it will be. We brought this program to Belize not because Belize had not started this program before. There are elements of a witness protection program that already had been running in Belize. This is not new, but the fact is by the OAS bringing this workshop our first aim is to build capacity.  More people need to be trained. The program is extensive within the convention that governs the program and Belize is to sign that convention. There are many articles and the extensive nature of a witness protection program means that there is much to learn and much to do. Also, it is a very expensive program if it is to be carried out in its entirety and we believe that in this context Belize would want to begin slowly but surely. We are not pushing the entire gamut of the program on Belize, but if it starts at the beginning and takes its time moving on ultimately the whole goal is to ensure that we have a strong foundation upon which it can build.”

Greene said the protection of witnesses can be very expensive and one way to reduce the expense and to ensure the protection of the witness is by forming alliances with other countries.

 Starret Greene – Representative of the General Secretariat of OAS

“One of the things that are inevitable in a witness protection program is to protect the witness and many times that requires that you change the identity of the person. It also requires that their dependents, children, sometimes a mother, father, a grandfather they too have to be protected and in cases where you have to move them out of the country that is the problem. For example in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, and Tobago witnesses have to be moved out of the country at the beginning of the trial and during the trial and then be brought back. While they are out of their regular place where they live they have to be fed, they have to be protected and this is a costly affair and as such, that is why the whole question of cost is so important to consider. That is why we emphasize the whole question of regionalization so now we have Belize working with Guatemala, Honduras, working with El Salvador, working with the other countries in the SICA Integration System- working with CARICOM. We believe that is going to be the key here because Belize will not be able to do it on its own. The OAS will continue to provide technical support.”

Greene said at this time Belize only have components of a witness protection program. CARICOM countries that already have implemented a witness protection program are Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.