"This is an important partnership. We do not have the expertise in human trafficking as a subject for which the courts are responsible. It means we have to partner with someone who has the expertise in order to render ourselves capable and competent to perform the role we are constitutionally required to perform.”
– CHIEF JUSTICE KENNETH BENJAMIN, BELIZE JUDICIARY
Belize is a small Central American country, well-known for its climate, beaches, jungles and the second largest barrier reef in the world. What many do not realize is that officials in Belize must also confront human traffickers, who are profiting from sex trafficking and forced labor.
Despite many identified trafficking victims every year, a trafficker has not been convicted for exploiting those victims since 2016. It is also likely that many more victims are not even being identified.
In the 2018 U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report (“TIP Report”), Belize was given an improved grade, after being given a failing grade for four consecutive years. The country moved up from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watchlist ranking. In addition to highlighting some of Belize’s “key achievements,” the TIP report also noted areas for improvement. In further explaining the Tier 2 Watch ranking, the TIP report noted that “despite these achievements, the government did not investigate or prosecute any public officials for complicity in trafficking-related offenses” and “did not convict any traffickers for the third consecutive reporting period.”
Belize’s location in Central America makes it a source, transit, and destination country for trafficking victims. With no meaningful cost for their crimes, traffickers continue to force vulnerable men, women, and children into labor and commercial sex in Belize. Sex trafficking of women and children, in particular, is a problem.
- A key component of the Institute’s model came to fruition when the Head of the National Police Force in Belize formed a new specialized anti-trafficking unit. For the first time in its history, Belize has specialized police officers whose sole job is to investigate human trafficking cases.
- The Institute celebrated the realization of another key component of its model when the Belizean Government sent police, prosecutors, and victim specialists to the Institute’s first Global Human Trafficking Academy for intensive hands-on training.
- The Institute signed a formal agreement with the Head of the National Police Force in Belize to expand Belize’s law enforcement capacity by supporting the newly formed specialized anti-trafficking unit’s investigation and prosecution of human traffickers.
- The specialized police unit is now working human trafficking cases and starting to arrest traffickers and free victims.
- The Institute also entered into a formal agreement with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Belize to hire an Institute lawyer to help process cases more efficiently. The clerk works under the supervision of Supreme Court Justice Moore, the judge appointed by the Chief Justice to hear all human trafficking cases.
- Two human trafficking cases were slated for trial in front of Justice Moore in 2018. Although there has been a delay, these will be the first human trafficking trials heard in Belize since 2016, and they have the potential to be the first convictions ever resulting in jail time under the current anti-trafficking law.
- The Institute visited Guatemala in March 2018 to learn about their existing anti-trafficking framework as well as gain insight on ways in which Belize and Guatemala can partner in their efforts to fight trafficking.
- At the request of the Chief Justice, the Institute hosted a training on Trafficking in Persons cases for Belize’s magistrate judges and Supreme Court Justices in December 2017. This was a peer-to-peer training in which a U.S. judge, a victim witness protection expert, and a trafficking survivor presented.
- Belize’s Director of Public Prosecutions and a Belize Supreme Court Justice joined a team of international experts to present on human trafficking during separate international judicial trainings in Kampala, Uganda.
- In September 2019, the Institute partnered with the Belize Police Department to hold a series of five trainings at the Belize Central Prison to train prison employees on how to identify potential victims of trafficking.
- Increase the capacity of Belize’s specialized anti-trafficking police unit to investigate trafficking cases by working together with Institute experts in a new secure office location where they can store evidence, develop investigative strategies, and interview victims.
- Improve trafficking survivors’ response and cooperation with Belize law enforcement by creating a safe and secure environment in which they can provide witness statements.
- Hire a Law Enforcement Advisor to office with the specialized police unit and work with them each day to develop their skills, solve case-related challenges, and stop more traffickers.
- Develop curriculum to train recruits at the Belize police academy to identify trafficking cases and refer them to the Specialized Police Unit.