Foreign and Caricom Affairs Minister Dr Amery Browne. – File photo/Jeff Mayers
GOVERNMENT will take action to address areas of concern highlighted by the United States government with respect to human rights issues in TT, according to Foreign and Caricom Affairs Minister Dr Amery Browne.
He gave this assurance on Saturday, in response to the damning US State Department’s 2021 Human Rights Report on TT, which was released on April 12.
The report was finalised after the US government engaged in significant collaboration with many stakeholders in TT, including the Government.
Browne said, “We welcome and stand to benefit from this type of collaborative approach.”
The report, he continued, outlined many areas in which TT’s human rights framework is strong. Browne said the report also identified areas that require our attention and action.
“The areas of identified strength include, but are not limited to, the independence of the judiciary, freedom of the press, a functioning democratic political system, freedom of religion and association, and the co-operation and responsiveness of the government to local and external human rights groups.”
Browne added of particular concern were specific references in the report to “multiple alleged incidents of extra-judicial police actions under the named former leadership of SORT (Special Operations Response Team), and specific references to allegations of bribery and other forms of corruption in the issuance of firearm licences under the tenure of the former leadership of the TTPS (TT Police Service).”
Government is fully committed to continuing its work with national stakeholders and key external agencies, including the United States government.”
“We will take effective action on the areas of the report that call for further attention.” He thanked the National Security Ministry and the Office of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs for working with his ministry to provide timely responses to the relevant queries that were posed by the US government.
Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial said the contents of the report, support the views previously expressed by the UNC on human rights matters in TT.
“The UNC has raised many of the issues raised in this report and we will continue to do so.”
“The reputation of our country will continue to suffer under the leadership of Rowley and the PNM. This is their legacy.”
In its report, the State Department said, “The government took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses or corruption, but impunity persisted because of open-ended investigations and the generally slow pace of criminal judicial proceedings.”
“There were credible reports that police committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.” The report referred to the deaths of two suspects in the Andrea Bharatt murder, while they were in SORT’s custody last year.
A report from the Police Complaints Authority on the actions of officers assigned to that unit is before the Director of Public Prosecutions. SORT, the brainchild of former CoP Gary Griffith, was disbanded earlier this year.
The report said Government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. There were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has accused Government of spying on certain people in TT. The Prime Minister has publicly dismissed her claims.
The report said Government generally respected the right to freedom of expression. But Government sometimes used “the antiquated Sedition Act to limit freedom of expression, according to some non-governmental organisations (NGOs).”
While the High Court struck down sections of the Sedition Act in 2020, the attorney general appealed, and the act was reinstated last March. The report said the act was used against PDP leader Watson Duke and the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha.
Government has generally respected peaceful assembly and association. There are no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The report said elections in TT are free and fair, referring to the August 10, 2020, general election in which the PNM defeated the UNC 22-19.
“No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate.
The primary political parties, the report continued tended to break along racial lines between the Afro-Trinbagonian-dominated PNM and the Indo-Trinbagonian-dominated UNC.
The report said, “Both dominant political parties used and defended racially charged language in recent elections.”