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Questionable respect of the thb victims’ rights in court proceedings


A resolution of the United Nations General Assembly established July 30 as the International Day against Trafficking in Human Beings to draw global public attention to this problem. One of the measures of the successful fight against THB is the quality of the systemic response to the problem of human trafficking and respect of the rights of THB victims inside and outside the system.

The “Analysis of Judicial Practice” best shows the state of victims of human trafficking in the Serbian judicial system. The Analysis covers criminal offenses of mediation in prostitution, human trafficking, and trafficking in minors for adoption. ASTRA has been conducting this Analysis annually for 11 years. Unfortunately, this year’s Analysis, which refers to the cases from 2020, confirms the negative trends in this area so far, with one, so to speak, a bright example.

  • The criminal offense of trafficking in human beings is threatened with a sentence of 3 to 12 years, but the sentences are regularly imposed in the amount of the legal minimum. In the last three years, we record the largest share of prison sentences for trafficking in human beings in the range of 3-5 years. At the same time, we record a reduction in the share of prison sentences lasting over five years (38% in 2018, 25% in 2019, and 17% in 2020). In addition, the imposition of sentences below the legal minimum, lasting less than three years, is also practiced so that 17% of perpetrators received a sentence of fewer than three years.
  • During the previous three years, criminal proceedings for human trafficking are most often related to sexual exploitation (sexual exploitation in the judgments for 2018 has a share of 60%, for 2019 82%, while for 2020 this percentage is 100% ), with a steady increase in the number of convictions passed by accepting plea agreements (40% in 2018, 50% in 2019 and 59% in 2020). Out of a total of 22 verdicts analyzed, 13 verdicts were passed by accepting the plea agreement, nine verdicts refer to the criminal offense of mediation in prostitution (59%), and 4 to the criminal offense of trafficking in human beings (31%). These hearings are held without the presence of the public and make the victims of these crimes “invisible participants”. They are denied the right to participate in the proceedings and cannot influence the course and content of the agreement. All this calls into question their rights. As a rule, defendants receive low sentences.
  • The share of the criminal offense of mediation in prostitution continued to increase, while the share of the criminal offense of trafficking in human beings decreased (the percentage of those accused of mediation in prostitution) (Article 184) was 13% in 2018, 59% in 2019, and 64% in 2020. ; the percentage of those accused of trafficking in human beings (Art. 388) was 80% in 2018, 29% in 2019, and 27% in 2020). The trend of reclassifying the criminal offense of trafficking in human beings into the lesser criminal offense of mediation in prostitution is becoming more and more current. ASTRA has been appealing for years that trafficking in human beings in cases of sexual exploitation should not be qualified as a crime of mediation in prostitution, with the presumed goal of easier proof of the existence of a crime.
  • In court proceedings related to the criminal offense of trafficking in human beings, all injured persons are female, while 60% of the injured persons are minors, i.e. the kids.
  • Regarding deciding on the legal request for compensation of material and non-material damage, out of a total of 13 injured persons: only two injured parties were referred to litigation for compensation, while one injured party in criminal proceedings was awarded compensation. There is no information on this aspect for the remaining ten injured parties in the first instance verdicts. One injured party was awarded compensation in criminal proceedings, representing a shift from the previous court practice. Usually, the victims were referred exclusively to civil proceedings to obtain compensation. ASTRA has been pointing out for years that it is necessary to change the practice to resolve property claims in criminal proceedings. To the detriment of victims’ rights, it is wrong to resolve property claims in civil proceedings just to avoid lengthy and expensive procedures.
  • None of the injured parties received a particularly sensitive witness status. It concerns since the status of a particularly sensitive witness in trafficking trials has been very rarely granted in previous years. The status of a particularly sensitive witness guarantees the victim’s safety during the court proceedings, without confrontation with the accused and with the possibility of testifying from a specially equipped room via a video link.
  • The personal and family circumstances of the defendants, previous non-conviction, or admission of guilt are still most often considered as mitigating circumstances for the perpetrators when sentencing, so the conclusions of the court in this area sometimes seem at least unusual. For example, in one case, the court assessed the circumstance that the defendant was the mother of six minor children, even though she committed the act of human trafficking against her daughter.

It is necessary to continue activities to improve the legal, strategic, and institutional framework to improve the state of victims of trafficking through changes in specific legal solutions, but that it is also necessary to consistently apply existing legal norms. In addition, the continuous education of judicial staff about trafficking practices and victims’ rights stays a priority.

In this direction, this Analysis provides a set of recommendations. Besides, this edition brings two appendices: Analysis of the practice of misdemeanor courts for the misdemeanor of prostitution (Appendix 1), The Practice of the Constitutional Court of Serbia regarding the violation of the prohibition of trafficking in human beings (Appendix 2).

The full text “Analysis of judicial practices the year 2020 for the criminal offenses of mediation in prostitution, trafficking in human beings and trafficking in minors for adoption” in Serbian can be downloaded HERE.

This edition of the Analysis of judicial practices was created as part of the CRIS project (Children’s Rights in Serbia – Improving the Position of Children in the Judicial System of the Republic of Serbia), realized by ASTRA, International Rescue Committee (IRC), and The Child Rights Centre (CPD). The project is supported by the EU’s The Rights, Equality and Citizenship (REC).

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