"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, bordering the Caribbean Sea and located between Guatemala and Mexico, well-known for its climate, beaches, jungles and the second largest barrier reef in the world. Formerly the site of several Mayan city states and later colonized by Great Britain as British Honduras, Belize achieved independence in 1981. Belize’s culture famously straddles the cultures of Central America and the Caribbean.
Trafficking victims in Belize need impunity to end. In the 2017 U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report (“TIP Report”), Belize was given a failing grade (Tier 3) for the third consecutive year. (A Tier 3 ranking is given to countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and are not making significant efforts to do so.)
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.
- The Institute invited members of the Belizean Cabinet and other senior officials to Washington, D.C., in August 2017. Members of the delegation attended meetings organized by the Institute with senior leaders at the Department of State, Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security, USAID, and Department of Health & Human Services.
- The Belizean Cabinet approved the recommendations developed by the Belizean delegation to Washington, D.C.
- The Chief Justice designated a Supreme Court Justice to hear all trafficking cases as a way to fast track human trafficking cases brought to the court and give them the specialized experience such cases require.
- The Institute partnered with the U.S. Embassy and Department of Homeland Security to train more than 75 Belizean criminal justice practitioners on anti-trafficking interviewing techniques in October 2017.
- The Institute hired experienced human trafficking attorney Dave Fillingame as Special Counsel on trafficking cases in Belize.
- 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.
- 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.
- Belize’s Commissioner of Police, Director of Public Prosecutions, and the CEO of the Ministry of Human Development committed personnel to receive training at the 2018 Global Human Trafficking Academy in Virginia, hosted by the Institute.
- The Commissioner of Police established a specialized unit of police officers to focus exclusively on human trafficking cases.
Our goal is to see Belize rescue more victims and hold more traffickers accountable. In partnership with the Human Trafficking Institute, we believe Belize could move off the U.S. Department of State’s Tier 3 ranking in the next few years.