Trinidad and Tobago
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were credible reports that police committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
On January 31, members of the police’s Special Operations Response Team (SORT), a specialized subunit of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service comprising police and members of the Trinidad and Tobago Defense Force, arrested four suspects in connection with the kidnapping and killing of Andrea Bharatt.
One suspect, Andrew Morris, was allegedly beaten by the SORT team in front of family members before being taken to SORT headquarters and later to a SORT training facility in Wallerfield for interrogation. Morris died on February 1 at Arima Hospital. Police did not report the death until February 3. Police stated that Morris suffered from comorbidities, sustained injuries while resisting arrest, and died of injuries resulting from falling from a chair while in the hospital. Two autopsies both reported Morris suffered bleeding from internal organs, had multiple skull fractures, and died from blunt force trauma.
Police reported a second suspect, Joel Balcon, was also arrested within hours of Morris by SORT and taken to the same facility for interrogation. Police alleged Balcon sustained injuries while attempting to escape police custody. He was paralyzed, lapsed into a coma, and died eight days later in the hospital. An autopsy report stated Balcon suffered multiple skull fractures and died due to multiple blunt force traumas to the body.
In February the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) and the Professional Standards Bureau launched investigations into the deaths of Balcon and Morris. In October the PCA completed its investigation and concluded that Balcon and Morris were subjected to torture and acts of violence that led to their deaths. The case was referred to Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard, who at the end of the year was reviewing PCA findings and had not determined whether to file charges.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the law prohibits such practices, there were reports that police officers and prison guards sometimes used excessive force.
On April 20, SORT commander Mark Hernandez was charged with misconduct in public office for his role in the beating of a third suspect in Andrea Bharatt’s killing (see section 1.a.).
In August, seven prisoners at the Wayne Jackson Building, a maximum-security prison also known as Building 13, filed a lawsuit against the government claiming they had been dragged from their cells and beaten by masked police, soldiers, and prison officers. The prisons commissioner stated the incident was precipitated by rebellious prisoners who refused to comply during a search and who had been waging a series of provocations with guards to attempt to dissuade crackdowns on contraband. Injured prisoners were treated at the prison’s infirmary, and one was transferred to a hospital for treatment.
In a separate incident in November, prisoners at Building 13 alleged that prison officers beat, threatened, and abused prisoners in response to two killings within three days of off-duty prison officers who worked at Building 13. Although the deaths took place outside the prison, prison officials alleged that inmates coordinated the killings through external gang contacts and threatened to kill 13 more prison officers before Christmas.
Despite government steps to punish security force members and other officials charged with unlawful killings or other abuses, open-ended investigations and the generally slow pace of criminal judicial proceedings created a climate of impunity.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in some of the prison system’s nine facilities continued to be harsh due to overcrowding.
Physical Conditions: Gross overcrowding was a problem. All prisons had inadequate lighting, poor ventilation, and inadequate sanitation. Conditions at the sole women’s prison were better than those in other prisons.
In May a small riot broke out in the women’s prison following news that a prison officer had tested positive for COVID-19. The female prisoners feared contracting COVID-19 and protested for the Ministry of Health and the Prison Services to intervene.
On May 11, three prisoners were awarded compensation following an incident in 2018 when they were severely beaten by prison guards in the Port of Spain prison. Each was awarded 85,000 Trinidadian dollars ($12,500) in compensation and 45,000 Trinidadian dollars ($6,600) in exemplary damages after the government accepted liability for assault and battery.
Administration: Authorities investigated and prosecuted credible allegations of mistreatment.
Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit outside observers to monitor the immigration detention center. The government permitted monitoring of prisons and other detention centers by UN officials and independent human rights organizations.
Improvements: Repair projects improved physical conditions at some detention facilities. In February the Ministry of National Security reported that it made infrastructure upgrades at several prison facilities, including the upgrade of the alarm system at the Golden Grove Prison, the installation of a closed-circuit television system at the maximum-security prison, and improvements to the plumbing and electrical system at Remand Yard.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements, and the courts addressed one reported case.
On May 5, a man was awarded 980,000 Trinidadian dollars ($144,000) in compensation because he was forced to serve his entire sentence for drug trafficking and was prevented by prison officers while incarcerated from filing a legal challenge to his conviction. He eventually appealed and successfully overturned his conviction, but not until after serving his full term. The judge denounced the misconduct of prison officials and cited it as the reason for awarding damages for breaches of constitutional rights, deprivation of liberty, and vindicatory damages.
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.
The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not enforce the law effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were credible reports of police and government corruption during the year.
Corruption: Corruption was a problem at many levels of government. Opaque public procurement processes were a concern. Statutes governing conflicts of interest were rarely enforced, making nepotism and corruption commonplace. There were credible reports of government ministries and public companies manipulating or bypassing established procurement procedures to favor specific vendors unfairly.
In January senior police officials acknowledged the involvement of police with transnational gangs in the trafficking of drugs, weapons, and persons. Police officers reportedly often accepted bribes and payments for assisting criminal enterprises.
In July a municipal official was charged with misbehavior in public office. He allegedly demanded a 15,000 Trinidadian dollar ($2,200) bribe from a contractor. The court granted bail to the official, and at year’s end the matter was still before the court.
In August stories in media alleged bribery within the police gun license unit, which issued private firearms licenses. Media reported that approximately 5,000 gun licenses were approved during former commissioner of police Gary Griffith’s tenure, compared with approximately 400 gun licenses issued annually by his predecessors. Media reported that the number of gun dealers and shooting ranges approved by Griffith also increased exponentially. There were allegations that businesses and individuals paid bribes to expedite gun licenses and that certain officers were reportedly given senior positions within the Firearms Unit to facilitate the issuance of these licenses. The Police Service Commission hired former judge Stanley John to probe the allegations and other issues of police misconduct. In August the director of public prosecutions charged two police officers for misbehavior in public office in corruptly obtaining and soliciting money to expedite the processing of firearm license applications.
NGOs reported, and government officials acknowledged, corruption, bribery, and extortion of immigration, police, and Coast Guard officials by human traffickers and by corrupt immigration officials.
In October the police’s Crime and Problem Analysis Unit reported that more than 840 reports of corruption were received during the year.
In November, Energy Minister Stuart Young acknowledged that corruption among public officials was a major factor in resistance to technology innovations such as electronic payments to replace cash systems because digitization allows greater efficiency, accountability, and transparency in payment systems.
Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
Several domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman investigates citizens’ complaints concerning the administrative decisions of government agencies. Where there is evidence of a breach of duty, misconduct, or criminal offense, the ombudsperson may refer the matter to the appropriate authority. The ombudsperson has a quasi-autonomous status within the government and publishes a comprehensive annual report. Both the public and the government had confidence in the integrity and reliability of the Office of the Ombudsman and the ombudsperson’s annual report.