US Concerned About Slow Pace of Criminal Judicial Proceedings in Trinidad and Tobago

The US Department of State said the most significant human rights issues included police and prison officials’ mistreatment of detainees; refoulement of refugees due to poor training of officials; official corruption and laws that criminalize same-sex sexual activity.

Police Shootings Increased in 2017 in Tandem With Rise in Violent Crime: Analysts

WASHINGTON – The United States says while Trinidad and Tobago took steps to punish security force members and other officials charged with killings or other abuse, open-ended investigations and the generally slow pace of criminal judicial proceedings created a climate of impunity.

In its 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights Practice released on Friday April 20th, the US Department of State said the most significant human rights issues included police and prison officials’ mistreatment of detainees; refoulement of refugees due to poor training of officials; official corruption and laws that criminalize same-sex sexual activity, although such laws were not enforced during the year.

Washington also said that there is the continued criminalization of the status or conduct of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

According to the report there were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

According to official figures, police shot and killed 33 people through September 26, more than double the 16 persons police shot and killed in 2016.

Officials from the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) reported receiving more cases of police killings of mentally challenged persons than in previous years; the police killed three mentally challenged persons for the year.

Analysts speculated that police shootings had increased in tandem with the rise in violent crime committed by an increasingly well-armed criminal element. Police acknowledged the shooting deaths. “There were occasional discrepancies between the official reporting and the claims made by witnesses regarding who fired the first shot and whether the officers fired in self-defense,” the report noted.

It said convicted inmates constituted approximately 37 per cent of the country’s prison population, while the others were in pre-trial status, according to figures from 2016, the most recent data available.

“Most prisons suffered from extreme overcrowding, while the maximum-security prison was not at full capacity. Observers often described the Port of Spain Prison, the remand prison, and the immigration detention center as having particularly poor conditions and severe overcrowding, with as many as nine prisoners kept in cells of 80 square feet.”

The report indicated that the Port of Spain Prison, designed to hold 250 inmates, held 610, and the remand prison, designed to hold 655 inmates, held 1,071, according to figures from 2016, the most recent data available. By contrast, the maximum-security prison held inmates in three-person cells, each with a toilet and shower.

The remand section of the Port of Spain Prison had particularly poor lighting, ventilation, and sanitation facilities, the report added.

In August the minister of national security announced that the Cabinet approved TT$53.6 million (US$7.9 million) to upgrade the remand section of the Golden Grove Prison, which would enable prisoners to use toilets and not pails.

It said although conditions at the women’s prison were better than those in the Port of Spain Prison, the women’s facility occasionally became overcrowded, since it held both women on remand and those serving prison sentences.

“The daily average female prison population was 130 in facilities with a maximum capacity of 158, according to figures from 2016, the most recent data available. Since there was no female youth facility, authorities placed some underage female prisoners in a segregated wing of the women’s prison and returned others to their families.

“Authorities held a daily average of 10 female juveniles at the women’s prison in 2016, the most recent year for which data was available. Observers raised concerns that the prison held young girls who had not committed any offense but who were merely in state custody.”

The report said that the government also operated the Immigration Detention Center to house irregular immigrants waiting to be deported.

“The average length of detention was one week to two months, depending on the speed with which the government secured public funding for deportation, as well as transit passports and visas. In some cases detention lasted more than four years. Observers reported that the men’s section continued to be overcrowded.”

The report said that the government permitted regular and open prison visits by UN officials and independent human rights observers upon approval of the Ministry of Justice and that these observers enjoyed a reasonable degree of independence.

But the report noted that due to a lack of training and awareness of refugee rights by officers at points of entry, reported cases of refoulement continued to occur at airport and ports.

It said that the government has not passed legislation to implement its obligations under the 1951 UN Convention and its 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.
“In the absence of national refugee legislation, UNHCR registered all asylum seekers, conducted refugee status determinations on behalf of the government, and promoted durable solutions for all refugees recognized under UNHCR’s mandate.

“The immigration law neither adequately considers the needs of persons in need of international protection nor provides for the granting of refugee status. The law does not provide for any exemption or nonpenalization of irregular entry or stay of asylum seekers or refugees”

The report notes that people who expressed a need for international protection could be subject to detention if they entered via irregular ways or overstayed their permitted time of entry without having presented themselves voluntarily to the authorities.

“Generally, the government observed the principle of nonrefoulement, but there were reported cases of persons who claimed asylum at the border or while in detention being returned to their country of origin. “In principle refugees were granted full protection from refoulement and detention if presented to the Immigration Division upon applying for asylum. They lived throughout the country, worked illegally, and had access to public-health facilities and in limited circumstances, public education.”

Washington said that the Living Water Community (LWC), a local Roman Catholic nongovernmental organization (NGO) and UNHCR’s operational partner, was the first point of contact for persons in need of international protection.

“It provided orientation and counseling and notified the Ministry of National Security’s Immigration Division of the respective asylum applications. In close coordination with UNHCR, the LWC engaged in case management and provided psychosocial care and humanitarian assistance, including cash, housing assistance, and legal aid, among other services.”

Washington said that pending parliament’s approval of implementing legislation, the Ministry of National Security’s Immigration Division authorized the stay of asylum seekers and refugees through the issuance of orders of supervision.

In the absence of legislation, neither refugees nor asylum seekers were permitted to work. They were sometimes subject to exploitation, including sexual exploitation, the report stated.

It said that while refugee and asylum-seeking children had access to education, the majority faced difficulty in enrolling in public schools due to insufficient spaces and other administrative obstacles. “Refugees and asylum seekers had access to most primary health-care services. They did not have access to identity documents and were obliged to surrender their passports to the Immigration Division.”

The report also notes that due to the absence of national legislation that would allow for local integration, resettlement was traditionally the only durable solution for refugees in the country, but this was a difficult, due to lack of available spaces.

“The government also closely collaborated with UNHCR by facilitating the resettlement of a few refugees recognized under its mandate in smaller Caribbean islands by allowing them to stay temporarily in the country to complete the formalities required for resettlement and then directly travel to their new asylum country,” the report said, noting that in the first half of the year, seven individuals were resettled to the United States through this mechanism of regional cooperation.

“Some refugees and asylum seekers abandoned their claims and left the country due to the lengthy processing time and lack of rights, particularly the right to work.”

On the issue of same sex, the report notes that although the law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, providing penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment, the government generally did not enforce such legislation, except in conjunction with more serious offenses such as rape. Immigration laws also bar the entry of “homosexuals” into the country, but the legislation was not enforced during the year.

The law identifying classes of persons protected from discrimination does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The 2012 Children Act decriminalizes sexual exploration between minors close in age but specifically retains language criminalizing the same activity among same-sex minors. Other laws exclude same-sex partners from their protections, the report noted. – CMC