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First ECHR Human Trafficking Judgment

In an unprecedented judgment on trafficking in human beings, on 7 January 2010, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found the Republic of Cyprus guilty on multiple counts, in the case of Rantsev v. Cyprus and Russia for failing to protect Oxana Rantseva, a Russian national who fell to her death in March 2001 under mysterious circumstances.

Twenty year old Russian woman Oxana Rantseva was trafficked from Russia to Cyprus, a destination country for women trafficked from Eastern and Central Europe for the purpose of sexual exploitation. In Cyprus under the “artiste” visa scheme, she was subjected to sexual exploitation in a cabaret in the island’s largest coastal resort, Limassol. Ms Rantseva was found dead in March 2001 below the balcony of an apartment belonging to an employee of the cabaret, having been taken there from a police station by the cabaret’s owner. The police found a bedspread tied to the railing of the balcony on the upper floor of the apartment.  An inquest in Cyprus found she had died as a result of injuries sustained when she jumped from the balcony.

The issuing of special ‘artiste’ or ‘entertainment’ visas was for many years directly related to trafficking in women for sexual exploitation with women being forced into prostitution by traffickers who fraudulently recruited victims for work as ‘entertainment’ dancers in cabarets and nightclubs.

The case was brought by Nikolay Rantsev, Ms Rantseva’s father. He argued that there was no adequate investigation into the circumstances surrounding his daughter’s death, that she was inadequately protected by Cypriot police while she was still alive and that there was a complete failure to punish the individuals responsible for exposing his daughter to the sexual exploitation and ill treatment which ultimately led to her death. He also complained about the lack of access to the judicial process in Cyprus.

The Court found that Cyprus, the State of destination in this case, had not only failed to protect Ms Rantseva from being trafficked or from being unlawfully detained prior to her death, but it had also failed to adequately investigate her death.  Russia, the state of origin, was found by the Court to have failed to adequately investigate the way in which Ms Rantseva had been trafficked from its borders. The Court ordered the Cypriot Government to pay Oxana Rantseva’s father the sum of Euro 40,000 in damages and the Russian Government to pay a sum of Euro 2,000. In its judgment, the Court clarified the obligations of states in relation to trafficking – whether states of origin, transit or destination – as well as noting the importance of cross border coordination in fighting trafficking.

Noting that, as a relatively modern phenomenon, human trafficking is not mentioned in the 1950 European Convention, the Court found that it nevertheless fell within the scope of Article 4 of the Convention (prohibiting slavery, servitude, and forced or compulsory labour).  The Court elaborated on the positive obligations of states in the context of Article 4 with respect to trafficking, holding that there is a positive obligation on states to adopt appropriate and effective legal and administrative frameworks, to take protective measures, and to investigate trafficking where it has already occurred. The Court described as “indisputable” that the latter obligation involved the need for a full and effective investigation covering all aspects of trafficking allegations, from recruitment to exploitation.  The Court noted that these positive obligations applied to the various states potentially involved in human trafficking – states of origin, states of transit and states of destination. Given the cross border nature of trafficking, the Court emphasised, as Interights did in its written comments to the Court, the importance of cross border cooperation in investigating incidents of trafficking.

In relation to Cyprus, the Court found that the regime of “artistes” visas did not afford practical and effective protection against trafficking and exploitation.  It also found that the Cypriot police had failed to make appropriate enquiries of Ms. Rantseva in a situation which gave rise to a “credible suspicion” she had been trafficked.  Accordingly, the Court found that Cyprus had failed to comply with its positive obligations under Article 4.  Having previously found a violation by Cyprus of its duty to investigate Ms. Rantseva’s death under Article 2 (the right to life), the Court found it did not need to revisit the procedural obligation under Article 4.

In relation to Russia, the Court found there was a failure to effectively investigate the trafficking of Ms Rantseva under Article 4 of the Convention. It stated that there had been no investigation into how Ms. Rantseva had been recruited, and no steps to identify those involved in her trafficking or their methods.  It stated that Russia was well placed to investigate the individuals and networks responsible for Ms. Rantseva’s trafficking and that it had failed to do so.  Accordingly, it found Russia in violation of its procedural obligations under Article 4.

Source: www.interights.org, http://www.medinstgenderstudies.org

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