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Alarm Report on Progress of Serbia in Chapters 23 and 24 – May 2021: trafficking in human beings remains “invisible”

On May 18, the Coalition prEUgovor presented the Progress Report of Serbia in Chapters 23 and 24 for November 2020 – April 2021. The report’s general conclusion is that activities have intensified after a lost year, but that the government’s approach to reforms remains formless, i.e. represents a continuation of the former course called “ticking items, ” which has not brought convincing results in the monitored areas.

The conference focused on the fight against corruption and organized crime, the prohibition of discrimination and gender equality, the fight against human trafficking and current events. Following worrying findings last year, several actions have been taken in these areas. The “war against the mafia” is being waged before the public’s eyes again, new laws and strategies are being drafted, and the scandals that are shaking the Serbian public hint at the frightening depth of the problems that are just emerging on the surface.

The following speakers presented achieved or expected results of the report:

  • Jelena Pejić Nikić, Belgrade Center for Security Policy, report editor
  • Vanja Macanović, Autonomous Women’s Center
  • Jasmina Krunić, ASTRA – Anti Trafficking Action
  • Nemanja Nenadić, Transparency Serbia
  • Bojan Elek, Belgrade Center for Security Policy

Danica Vučenić, a journalist, moderated the discussion.

Combating and combating trafficking in human beings

In her presentation, ASTRA representative Jasmina Krunić referred to the current case of Jagodina and pointed out that if the witnesses’ allegations are true, everything indicates that there are elements of human trafficking. On the other side, the way the topic is placed in public is not encouraging victims to come forward and speak out. She once again mentioned that (potential) victims of trafficking – women and girls – have the right to full assistance and protection, regardless of whether they will participate in the investigation or court proceedings.

In addition, the representative of ASTRA pointed out the current statistics, as well as the fact that human trafficking remains “invisible” and unrecognized in our society, especially bearing in mind that the actual number of victims in Serbia is up to ten times higher than the official number of identified victims.

After the crisis and the rapid increase in the number of calls sent to the ASTRA SOS line in 2020, during the pandemic’s shock wave, the number of calls returned to normal for this time of year in this reporting period. However, the crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has intensified and further emphasized social inequalities, which affects the crime of human trafficking. In addition, the growing prevalence of new technologies, social media and the Internet seems to benefit perpetrators of the crime of trafficking more than officials who fight against it.

Regarding the acute problems related to this area, the lack of shelters for victims of trafficking is highlighted. Namely, the state shelter has not been operating for almost nine months, and the shelter for men victims of human trafficking, whose number is also growing, does not even exist in the indications.

Another topic that has not been addressed so far was addressed: “how much human trafficking costs the state”. In the EU member states, covering the life cycle of a person, it was concluded that the cost per victim amounts to 312,756 euros, so, among other things, that is why EU states insist on prevention. However, in Serbia, given that it is not possible to follow the victim through the national referral system for victims of trafficking, it is not even possible to estimate the cost of victim support. It means that it is not possible to constantly monitor which types of support exist, which new services are needed, and which services turn out to be the most efficient.

However, speaking about the situation in combating human trafficking in this reporting period, Jasmina Krunić pointed out two positive things. First, according to the new Draft Law on the Protector of Citizens, it will also perform the duties of a national rapporteur in the field of human trafficking. The National Rapporteur will have the task of monitoring and independently reporting on the activities of all governmental and non-governmental actors in the area of combating trafficking in human beings and will give suggestions and recommendations for improving their work. The appointment of a national rapporteur would be a direct consequence of ASTRA’s multi-year advocacy. The representative of ASTRA reminded us of the recent decision of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Serbia adopted in March. The court ruled that the clients’ right to ban human trafficking was violated (because she was a minor at the time of the crime), and as well the right to a trial within a reasonable time − both guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia.

The rest of the anti-trafficking section of this Alarm Report provides an overview of Serbia’s situation in international reports, a review of the national and legal framework – characterized by sluggishness and delays, and a review of civil society efforts to work for victims. Then follows a series of recommendations for improving the current situation.

The alarm report on Serbia’s progress in Chapters 23 and 24 for November 2020 – April 2021 can be found HERE!

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