TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO 2020
The authorities continued to forcibly return Venezuelans seeking international protection, in violation of international human rights law. The government passed amendments to the law on domestic violence but failed to extend those protections to people in same-sex relationships.
In March, in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19, the authorities closed the borders to all international travellers, including nationals, many of whom were stranded overseas. Those who returned were required to quarantine.
Trinidad and Tobago failed to sign the UN Convention against Torture or the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
Rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants
The authorities continued to fail to implement national refugee legislation or to provide other ways for Venezuelans in need of international protection to regularize their status in the country.
Authorities denied calls for migrants and asylum-seekers held in immigration detention solely for irregular entry or while waiting for their asylum claims to be heard to be released as a measure to protect them from COVID-19.1
In July, the Minister of National Security claimed that “illegal immigrants” and business people who “trafficked” Venezuelans into the country presented a potential health risk due to COVID-19. He issued a hotline number for reporting suspected cases and said that Venezuelans who had registered and were given legal residency and the right to work under a government registration process in 2019 and who were found to be “harbouring” irregular migrants could have their residency revoked and face deportation.
During the year, a group of approximately 25 human rights organizations sent two Open Letters to the Prime Minister urging him to consider re-opening the registration process and stop sending people back to danger. Nevertheless, throughout the year authorities continued to forcibly return Venezuelans. In July, the authorities deported approximately 165 Venezuelans, in violation of international human rights law.2
In September, just days after a UN-appointed Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela found reasonable grounds to believe that the authorities there had committed grave human rights violations that could amount to crimes against humanity, the authorities of Trinidad and Tobago sent another 93 Venezuelans back to the human rights and humanitarian situation they were fleeing, violating their obligations of non-refoulement.3
Similarly, in November, authorities deported at least 16 children and an estimated 12 adults to Venezuela, who were later returned to Trinidad following an outcry.4 The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights subsequently granted some of the children precautionary measures. In December, according to UNHCR between 14 and 21 children and adults died or were missing after a boat was shipwrecked reportedly on its way to Trinidad from Venezuela.5
Throughout the year, civil society organizations and women’s human rights defenders protested about widespread gender-based violence.
In January, the Police Service established a Gender-based Violence Unit as a response to the ongoing problem of domestic violence.
In June, for the first time in 21 years, the government passed amendments to the Domestic Violence Act.
In August, civil society widely condemned a brutal attack on a Venezuelan teenager and reiterated calls for the authorities to take steps to stop all types of gender-based violence and discrimination.
Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people
The government continued to appeal against a landmark High Court judgement in 2018 (Jason Jones v. Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago) that decriminalized sexual activity between consenting adults of the same sex. The government indicated that it intended to have this case heard by the country’s highest appellate court, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the UK.
In amending the Domestic Violence Act, the government failed to extend protections to same-sex couples, despite proposals from a Senator and civil society to do so. The Attorney General, on the floor of Parliament during a Senate debate on the bill, indicated that the government was awaiting the outcome of the appeal of the ruling in the Jason Jones case before taking a position on providing protections for LGBTI people in other areas of law.
Trinidad and Tobago continued to punish murder with the mandatory death penalty.
- Americas: Governments must halt dangerous and discriminatory detention of migrants and asylum seekers (Press release, 2 April)
- Trinidad and Tobago: Deportation of 165 Venezuelans violates international law (Press release, 6 August)
- Open letter to the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago (AMR 49/3188/2020)
- Trinidad & Tobago: Return of deported children gives government second chance to do the right thing (Press release, 25 November)
- Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela: Policies from both governments put lives at risk (Op ed, 16 December)