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Regional Conference “Protection of Victims of Trafficking – Rights-based Approach in Practice”

Regional Conference “Protection of Victims of Trafficking – Rights-based Approach in Practice”, organized by ASTRA in partnership with International Forum of Solidarity EMMAUS – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Women’s Rights Center – Montenegro, Open Gate – La Strada, Macedonia and La Strada International – the Netherlands, took place in Belgrade on June 1 and 22016The conference was organized as part of the second phase of the project “Balkans ACT (Against Crime of Trafficking) Now!” which was implemented in the past four years with the support of the EU (IPA CSF).

 During three sessions, panelists discussed different aspects of the protection of trafficked persons and their access to justice. At the very beginning, it was stressed that despite the developed system, indicators, matrices, we are witnessing significantly smaller number of identified victims in the region, frequent violations of the reflection period, inadequate accommodation, a lack of reintegration programs for victims of human trafficking. It was emphasized that civil society organizations are not sufficiently involved in the process of identifying victims of trafficking, and even when they are, it is not from the very beginning of the process. There is a large number of social services for victims of human trafficking, but they do not have effective access to such services.

In the first session, moderated by Suzanne Hoff (La Strada international), legal experts from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia pointed out to the main characteristics of the position of trafficking victims in court proceedings, in particular in criminal proceedings, based on the results of monitoring of trials and the analysis of judgments for human trafficking and similar offences.


It is still difficult to prosecute the crime of human trafficking because it is difficult to prove it. Only a small number of prosecuted cases – or no cases at all – relate to labor exploitation. The quality of prosecution is questionable and consequently penal policy is mild. On more than one occasion cases of human trafficking have been prosecuted as other crimes that carry lower punishment, such as the mediation of prostitution or unlawful marriage with a minor. In all countries concerned, the victims face secondary victimization during court proceedings while their testimony is still the key piece of evidence in the proceedings. In order to improve the rights and protection of victims, it is necessary to enforce laws more persistently, because the analyses and experiences show that certain bad practices do not result from unsatisfactory or non-existent laws, but from failure to use them.

The focus of the second session, moderated by Helga Konrad, was on access to compensation for victims of trafficking. It has been concluded that, although law in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia allows for a possibility to decide on compensation in criminal proceedings, it rarely happens in practice. Further, the main challenges include the fact that civil proceedings to which victims are usually directed by criminal judges, are long and too expensive, while trafficked persons do not have right to free legal aid or other benefits. In addition, victims themselves are not informed about their right to compensation and the question is who should be responsible for infirming them both about this right and what it the procedure of its realization. Next, the enforcement of the judgment also has its challenges, as awarded compensation does not mean that the victim will actually obtain it. In that respect, it is necessary to train judges and prosecutors to apply all the existing legal possibilities that would enable victims get compensation without additional costs and additional traumatization; ensure that trafficked persons have access to free legal aid, including representation in civil proceedings when it is necessary for compensation purposes; put additional efforts in the area of seizure of criminal assets; and inform the victims, from the first contact with state authorities, about their rights including the right to compensation.

At the begging of intensive advocacy campaign aimed at improving access to compensation for trafficked persons, it has been concluded in all four countries, based on the experiences and practice in EU, that state-run compensation fund is the safest and the fairest way for realizing this right. To support this idea and the campaign, feasibility studies were conducted in B&H, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia, in order to examine in particular financial feasibility of the fund, i.e. the costs of the fund and possible sources of its financing.

The last session was dedicated to the monitoring of the results and effects of the implementation of national anti-trafficking policies. For the purpose of as objective as possible assessment of not only legal and policy frameworks, but also whether international standards are met in practice, special monitoring methodology was developed over the past couple of years in cooperation with British expert Mike Dottidge. Based on this metodology, data have been collected and montoring reports written for the four countries. The authors of the report discussed the main problems observed in practice when it comes to the protection of trafficked persons, in particular in the area of identification, protection of privacy, safety, and availability and quality of services and programmes which should contribute to the recovery and reintegration of victims. Another focus was on challenges in the process of reporting, having in mind the lack or unavailability of data in all four countries. Particularly restricted are data related to assistance and support to children victims, which is justified by a need to protection children’s privacy, which makes independent monitoring and assesment of this area impossible.

As a side event, the sixth issue of Anti Trafficking Reveiw was presented. The Anti-Trafficking Review, published twice a year by GAATW, promotes a human rights based approach to anti-trafficking. It explores trafficking in its broader context including gender analyses and intersections with labour and migrant rights. Each issue relates to an emerging or overlooked theme in the field of human trafficking.  The theme of the issue presented at the conference is prosecuting human trafficking, which is widely viewed as one of the main pillars of an effective national response to trafficking. But worldwide, the number of prosecutions for trafficking and related exploitation remains stubbornly low, especially when compared to the generally accepted size of the problem. Issue 6 of the Anti-Trafficking Review analyses human trafficking prosecutions in different regions of the world and from a range of different perspectives. With five themed articles focusing on Russia, the United States, the Balkans and Western Europe, the issue provides important insights into the practical and policy issues surrounding human trafficking prosecutions.

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