By: JONATHAN ROBERTS
BELIZE CITY, BELIZE – Belize judges clearly and collectively made known their intent to join the fight against modern slavery last week when they gathered in Belize City for the Belize Judiciary Trafficking in Persons Conference.
More than 80 percent of Belize’s magistrate and Supreme Court justices attended the Institute-led event that focused on Belize’s anti-trafficking legislation as well as knowledge and management of Trafficking in Persons (TIP) cases.
Here are some key takeaways.
1. Belize is committed to the cause.
The training occurred at the request of the Chief Justice of Belize (pictured above), who attended the event. Additionally, Belize’s Attorney General gave opening remarks. The fact that the Chief Justice, Attorney General, and all but three magistrate judges and Supreme Court justices were at the training demonstrates a huge political commitment. Belize officials want to improve their capacity to enforce anti-trafficking laws and are taking measurable steps to do so.
This is an important partnership…we need to partner with someone who has the expertise [on TIP cases] in order to render ourselves capable and competent to perform the role that we are constitutionally required to perform. – Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin on the partnership between the Belize Judiciary and the Human Trafficking Institute
2. Peer-to-peer interaction encouraged thoughtful discussion.
An important component of the training was peer-to-peer, judge-to-judge dialogue. Colorado District Court Judge Robert Lung engaged the Belize judges at the training. The atmosphere allowed for candid discussion, the free flow of ideas, and self-critique. The attentiveness and interest of Belize magistrate judges and Supreme Court justices was palpable during the training thanks to peer-to-peer interaction. In addition to Judge Lung, Judge Antoinette Moore—Belize’s designated judge for human trafficking cases—was present.
3. It is vital that law enforcement be survivor-informed.
Judge Lung (above) is a survivor of human trafficking and sexual assault and shared about his experiences. Marie Martinez Israelite, former Chief of Victim Services at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, spoke to the judges on trauma and trauma-informed practices. As police, prosecutors, and judges in Belize handle more TIP cases, it is integral that they be trauma-informed, so that they know how to treat trafficking victims with respect, dignity, and professionalism.
4. Dave Fillingame, Institute Counsel, continues to make a mark.
The training also included a session on TIP prosecution from Belize’s Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryl-Lynn Vidal, and a thorough overview of Belize’s anti-trafficking law presented by Dave Fillingame (above), the Institute’s Special Counsel in Belize. Fillingame organized the event. At the end, the Chief Justice opened the discussion for further collaboration between the Belizean government and the Institute, of which Fillingame will play a significant role.
5. Moving forward
Belize’s magistrate judges and Supreme Court justices want to see more trafficking cases come through their courtrooms. They also created a list of recommendations at the end of the day which included developing a manual to help judicial officers better navigate the legislation, developing sample summations for trafficking cases, which are similar to jury instructions in U.S. trials, and providing TIP law training for frontline personnel.