Chile Hosts Human Trafficking Conference a Week After a Flood of Convictions

By Charlotte Karrlsson-Willis on July 23, 2013—
UN experts and officials from ten nations plan unified action against human trafficking days after court hands down sentence in the case of dozens of trafficked Bolivians. 

On any given day last year, 250,000 people worked in forced labor in Latin America, according to the U.N. This accounts for one tenth of the global figure, with annual profits from human trafficking estimated at US$1.3 billion on the continent and US$31.7 billion worldwide.

carlos_vera_-_ohchr_south_america

UN Special Rapporteur on Human Trafficking Joy Ngozi Ezeilo photo by Carlos Vera / OHCHR – South America

U.N. experts and officials from ten Latin American and Caribbean nations met in the Chilean capital Monday in the hopes of generating “collective action” to combat the ever present issue of human trafficking across the region.

“Trafficking knows no borders and affects all regions of the world,” the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Trafficking, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, said Monday. “In Latin America and the Caribbean there are countries of source, transit and destination of trafficked persons. And although the political will is there, the adoption of a comprehensive and collective approach to address this problem remains a challenge.”

The meeting, dubbed, the “Regional Consultation on the Right to an Effective Remedy for Trafficked Persons,” was a time for leaders to share insights, analysis and strategies for dealing with human trafficking and human rights issues, including the difficult task of protecting the victims.

In addition to the U.N., various experts from regional and international organizations were in attendance, including Fernando García Robles, chief of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Section of the Organization of American States (OAS).

“Human trafficking in the Americas includes sexual and labour exploitation, children involved in armed conflicts, human organ trafficking and other human rights violations,” Robles said. “And it is a challenge to estimate the number of victims, mainly because they often do not report these crimes.”

More than words

The conference convened just a week after Chilean courts handed down a ruling in a case involving dozens of illegal workers trafficked from Bolivia to the Chilean city of Molina, in the Maule Region.

On July 14, courts convicted Irma Barría Sáez for smuggling migrants and was sentenced to three years in prison and fined almost US$4,000.
The case broke in May when Chile’s Investigative Police (PDI) uncovered the illegal practices of electrical construction company Paola Espinoza Montajes Limitada. Investigators became suspicious of the company when they noticed that 102 Bolivian workers were listed as living in the same two buildings. When the PDI checked, only 38 of the employees had work permits.

The men were working to put up high-tension electrical lines for Elecnor, a major energy provider in Chile. The work was highly hazardous  — in June two Bolivian workers fell more than 130 feet to their deaths while installing a high-tension tower for Paola Espinoza Montajes Limitada.

“[Barría] was responsible for immigration for the company,” Barrientos said. “Her work involved offering work and getting the Bolivians into the country with the plan to give them contracts so that they can work in [Chile].”

Barría’s conviction is just one outcome in an ongoing case. Prosecutor Monica Barrientos explained to La Tercera that the investigation is now focusing on Edita Lara who, according to the Barrientos, “acted as an administrative officer, responsible for payments, salaries, contracts and return passages.”

This is the not the first major human trafficking case in Chile this year. In February, three men were convicted of trafficking Haitians after a seven-month investigation by the PDI. The men were given five years and a day in prison, which they are serving with parole in place of jail time.

In 2011, Chile introduced a new law against all forms of human trafficking that allows for punishments of up to 15 years in prison for those found guilty. The law also gave authorities the ability to use undercover agents and wiretapping to pursue human trafficking cases and set up the special PDI unit dedicated to human trafficking.

Despite these tools to combat human trafficking, Chile is still considered a second-tier country by the U.N. and watch groups. The rating means it does not fully comply with international standards to prevent human trafficking, but is working toward improving. In June, the U.S. State Department released a report that heavily criticized Chile, saying the Andean nation was not doing enough to combat the issue.”

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