The United States of America(USA) has asked the Trinidad and Tobago government to investigate the human rights abuses that have been reported amongst the police and prison services in this country. That was one of three U.S recommendations given to a delegation headed by Attorney General Faris Al- Rawi at the 39th session of the United Nations(UN) Universal Periodic Review(UPR) yesterday.
As stated by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights(OHCHR) on its website, “The Universal Periodic Review is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights record of all UN member states.” Trinidad and Tobago are one of 13 countries whose record was reviewed by the UPR working group that will sit until November 12.
The meeting was held in Geneva, Switzerland but attended by the TT delegation virtually. The U.S representative, Second Secretary, Jesse Lee Lynch was the only spokesperson among scores of other delegates who gave recommendations, and explicitly pointed out the issue of extrajudicial police killings and prison abuses in T&T.
In the words of Second Secretary, Lee Lynch, “Trinidad and Tobago must investigate reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings and human trafficking by police and reports of excessive use of force by prison guards.” Furthermore, the United States asked that any officer found responsible should be held accountable.
The other recommendations made by the United States to T&T dealt with the need to deal with corruption by implementing transparent procurement processes and the persecution of police officers who took or solicited bribes. And thirdly, the reformation and strengthening of laws to protect against gender-based violence including those affecting the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender(LGBT) community.
In his response to the comments made by U.S Second Secretary Lee Lynch, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi pointed out that there were already laws put in place to deal with the issues of police killings and human trafficking. He said that laws were passed to ensure that independent bodies could investigate and supervise law enforcement and made mention of the public procurement laws and, “Trinidad and Tobago’s follow the money campaign,” with legislation such as, “Explain your wealth” and “Proceeds of Crime Act” which he said was instrumental in Trinidad and Tobago’s fight against terrorism and money-laundering and noted that it also aided in the human trafficking issue. As stated by the AG: “After all the trafficking in persons is closely related to money-laundering if you simply follow the money.”
While the delegates of the U.N member states applauded Trinidad and Tobago in its efforts to strengthen its human rights record since it first faced the UPR in 2011 and 2016 by its abolition of child marriages, the steps taken to tackle gender-based violence including the establishment of a specialist police unit to deal with the issue, the amendments made to the domestic violence legislation and the efforts taken to register Venezuelan migrants that aided in the fight against human trafficking among other examples, there were other recommendations that UN member states brought up that members contended would better T&T human rights record.
Some of those recommendations included: Dealing with overcrowding in the prisons, abolishing torture and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading methods of punishments, removing any legislation that discriminates against persons with disabilities, accelerating the development of rural areas, amending the equal opportunity act to prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ persons and removal of laws barring consensual relationships between same-sex persons and refraining from applying the death penalty and imposing an official moratorium on the practice. However, according to AG Al-Rawi when he responded on the two issues relating to the discrimination against LGBTQ persons and the death penalty, he said, Trinidad and Tobago awaits a judgment from the privy council on those issues that the TT government will be guided by.
On the issue of refugees and Venezuelan migrants, both the United Kingdom and the United States delegates commended T&T on their efforts but also asked if more can be done to support the community. According to the Second Secretary Lee Lynch: “We recognise the steps Trinidad and Tobago has taken to regularise some Venezuelans; however, we continue to urge the government to expand registration of all Venezuelans and allow them to work and access emergency health services in the country. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland representative, Ms. Laura Frances Callaghan-Pace recommended: “Steps to strengthen the protection mechanisms, emergency, and long-term support services, for all suspected victims of modern slavery, including those from vulnerable migrant communities.” She also recommended: “The development of national refugee legislation to incorporate international commitments into domestic law.”
According to the moderator who presided over the session, the final report of the Universal Periodic Review(UPR) that will be delivered to the TT delegation will be compiled by the Netherlands, Indonesia, and Mauritania.