Human Rights in the Americas. Review of 2019 - Trinidad and Tobago [AMR 01/1353/2020]

The authorities registered more than 16,500 Venezuelans who were given temporary visas. However, following the registration process, the government continued to criminalize the irregular entry of migrants and refugees, contrary to international standards; failed to pass national refugee legislation; and continued to return Venezuelans, in circumstances which may amount to refoulement. There remained no legal protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Trinidad and Tobago retained the mandatory death penalty for murder.


Between April and May, two boats carrying Venezuelans seeking safety were shipwrecked on route to Trinidad, leaving at least 50 people missing and 10 survivors, according to news reports.

In October, dozens of people were found chained and in cages in a so-called rehabilitation centre, allegedly run by a religious group for former prisoners and people who use drugs, according to media reports.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

By the end of October, almost 14,000 Venezuelans had lodged asylum claims, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the body mandated to process such claims. Despite this, the authorities in Trinidad and Tobago refused to recognize the seriousness of the human rights violations taking place in neighbouring Venezuela. State officials continued to refer to those fleeing as “economic migrants”, despite UNHCR indicating that “the majority” of those fleeing Venezuela needed international protection.

An outlier in the region, Trinidad and Tobago remained one of the few Latin American countries, also confronted with Venezuelans fleeing human rights violations, to have no national legislation on refugees, meaning in practice that people who apply for asylum or who are granted refugee status have no access to many of the rights granted under the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Refugee Convention) and its Protocol (1967), to which Trinidad and Tobago is party.[1]

In May and June, during a two-week period, the government opened a so-called “amnesty” process for Venezuelans to apply for legal residency. According to government data, approximately 16,500 Venezuelans were registered during the period and later given temporary visas and the right to work.

However, following the closing of the process, the authorities continued to enforce immigration laws which criminalize irregular entry, contrary to international standards; closed ports of entry by sea to Venezuelans; and implemented new visa requirements for Venezuelans.

Nevertheless, Venezuelans continued to take dangerous risks to arrive by sea.

In October, according to media reports, the authorities returned at least 17 Venezuelans who had arrived by boat, which may amount to refoulement.

During the year, Cubans lodged the second highest number of asylum claims.

Asylum-seeking and refugee children were unable to access public education, despite the country having ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and being party to the Refugee Convention which, in Article 22, requires states to provide refugees “the same treatment as is accorded to nationals with respect to elementary education.”

Throughout the year, and especially during the registration process, faith-based organizations across the country provided Venezuelan migrants and refugees with food, water and shelter.

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI)

A landmark judgment from a High Court in 2018 decriminalized sexual activity between consenting adults of the same sex. However, the government appealed the judgment, stating it intends to have this case heard by the country’s highest appellate court, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the UK.

There remained no legal protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The NGO Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation-Trinidad and Tobago received reports of some incidents of discrimination and violence towards LGBTI people.

Death penalty

Trinidad and Tobago remained the only country in the Americas region to retain the mandatory death penalty for murder. New death sentences were imposed during the year for this offence, but no execution has taken place since 1999.

[1] Open Letter to Keith Christopher Rowley, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago (AMR 49/0448/2019)