COVID-19 and Narco Trafficking: South American countries keen to repatriate prisoners to serve balance sentence in jails back home

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Updated: Jun 03, 2020 7:41 PM

Diplomatic sources have said some embassies from the Latin America region have during the global pandemic reached out to the government to allow the prisoners/detainees to be repatriated to their home countries where they can serve their sentence.

COVID-19, Narco Trafficking, South American countries, global pandemic, decongestion of jail, under trails prisoners,latets news on covid 19 impactIn April last year, India and Brazil inked a treaty for repatriation of convicted prisoners so that they can serve their remaining jail term in their own country.

Due to timely judicial intervention thousands of Indian prisoners [convicts and under trials] are being released for a limited period in order to decongest the prison during the global pandemic, whereas foreign prisoners are still serving their sentences in prison.

Diplomatic sources have said some embassies from the Latin America region have during the global pandemic reached out to the government to allow the prisoners/detainees to be repatriated to their home countries where they can serve their sentence.

“There could be no better opportunity for India to repatriate a large number of foreign prisoners to their native countries for serving out the remaining sentences. The same would help in decongestion of jails, aid ‘reformation and social rehabilitation’ of the prisoners by placing them closer to their families and also reduce the imprisonment cost” opines an advocate.

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“Most of these prisoners are lodged in jails across the country and serving sentences for different crimes including narco-trafficking. Presently, there are 50 prisoners from different countries of South America, including from Bolivia, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Paraguay in different jails across the country,” shared a top diplomat on condition of anonymity.

“For narco-trafficking, the sentence is anything between 10-20 years. From Bolivia alone, there are around 13 prisoners in the jails here and the youngest detainee is a 21-year-old from that country. These people are used as narco-mules and they come through different routes and often onboard flights from Africa,” a top diplomat shared with Financial Express Online.

Legal View

According to Arjun Dewan, advocate, Delhi High Court, “On 1st January 2004, the Repatriation of Prisoners Act, 2003, was brought in force. It is a legislation which was brought with an intent to facilitate the repatriation of foreign prisoners who were serving sentences in India. The legislation works in conjunction with the bilateral/multilateral international treaties with other countries whereby India can transfer sentenced prisoners back to their native country and also receive Indian who was convicted and sentenced in other countries.”

“The Act enables the foreign prisoner right to apply to be transferred provided he or she meets the criteria laid down under the Act and the bilateral/multilateral treaty if any. The procedure to be followed by the two countries is provided under the Act, which is to be read in conjunction with the applicable treaty. Even though the prisoner may be transferred but our judicial system still exercises limited jurisdiction over the prisoner,” he states.

Article 10, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India has acceded to, recognises that “essential aim” of a ‘penitentiary system’ is the “reformation and social rehabilitation” of prisoners. It is also accepted that serving sentence in the native country has been recognised to be more humane.

“Though the Act gives only the right to the prisoner to apply upon meeting certain conditions, nothing prevents the Governments to take steps to encourage such requests or directly take up the issue with the concerned consulates/countries,” Dewan concludes.

In April last year, India and Brazil inked a treaty for repatriation of convicted prisoners so that they can serve their remaining jail term in their own country.

“This needs to be replicated with other countries of the region” suggests Bangar.

Narcotics from South America coming to India?

Sharing his views with Financial Express Online, former Indian envoy to the region Ravi Bangar says, “With the Mexicans in control of supplying the US market, Colombia’s criminal groups are looking further afield, including to Europe and China. For India, it just not a route of transit from Afghanistan and South East Asia but also rising domestic consumption.”

Having served in various countries in the region including Colombia, Ecuador and others, he says “The drug trade in Colombia has undergone a shift in the last 10 years especially since the elimination of Pablo Escobar in 1993. And it has moved away from the Caribbean trafficking route to the Pacific. The organized crime in Colombia has taken a new form and is highly fragmented and horizontal.”

US President Trump in August last year designated India among the over 20 major drug transits or illicit drug-producing countries. The countries identified in the list are Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Belize, Bolivia, Burma, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.

As India has close proximity to Afghanistan. Pakistan and Iran known as ‘Golden Crescent’ as well as ‘Golden Triangle’ of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, has to monitor the evolving drug routes, linkages to domestic criminal syndicates.

While Colombia, Bolivia and Peru are the three main illicit drug producers in South America, the Pacific Coast and Venezuela are the main exit points of drugs. Ecuador and Panama are transit countries. And Brazil especially for drug shipments to Europe.

“While the drug goes to Europe from Peru, the Colombian syndicates are diversifying the market and now have clients in China, Australia and India. The drug enters China mainly in containers and not with “mules”, says Bangar.

In April last year three Colombian drug carriers –mules- known as “Mulas” in Spanish on way to catch flights India (Mumbai), Mexico and San Andres were detained at Cartagena airport. They were carrying drugs hidden in children’s storybooks and sausage cans.

It is not the Mexican drug traffickers who own the markets in South America, but the national mafias in Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil or Peru. The Colombian statistics confirm that the United States, Mexico and Spain are the main destinations for Venezuelan mules, followed by Brazil, Panama and the Dominican Republic. “Although nothing justifies breaking the law and transporting drugs, the truth in the case of Venezuelans is that the desperation to get a handful of dollars has led them to the temptation to listen to the macabre siren song of the mafia,” opines Bangar.

The impact of COVID-19

The COVID 19 while has emerged as main global health pandemic, the social crisis due to rising jobs losses, falling incomes; the drug lords have sensed an opportunity to have new recruits. These can be utilized when the international air traffic opens.

Latin America is also a source of human trafficking with destinations in Asia including India. Also, as has been reported by Financial Express Online Human trafficking gangs utilize the Latin America route to send persons from India illegally into the US and Canada. The routes are well defined and Indian agents have local counterparts in the entire route.

“Such an evolving scenario calls for India to strengthen its strategies in an institutional manner including having a network of agreements and treaties to combat organised crimes and transfer of sentenced persons beyond its immediate neighbourhood especially in Africa, Europe, US and Latin America,” concludes the former envoy.

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