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Round Table “Strengthening Action Against Human Trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina”: Human trafficking in Europe continues to rise

On February 28th in Sarajevo, a round table was held under the organization of the Council of Europe titled “Strengthening Action Against Human Trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” ASTRA’s director, Marija Andjelkovic, participated in the panel, discussing the SerBaz case, where ASTRA assisted some of the affected workers from Bosnia and Herzegovina. These workers were recruited in 2009 and taken to Azerbaijan, where they were subjected to forced labor.

In October 2021, the European Court of Human Rights issued a judgment in the Zoletic and others v. Azerbaijan case (20116/12), ruling in favor of 33 Bosnian and Herzegovinian citizens. The court decided that despite knowledge of human trafficking, forced labor, and inhumane treatment, Azerbaijan failed to fulfill its procedural obligation to initiate and conduct an effective investigation into the alleged forced labor and human trafficking.

Furthermore, all affected workers were awarded non-material damages of €5,000 each, to be paid by the Azerbaijan government.

“For ASTRA, the SerbAz case is not concluded until the judgment is enforced, which has not happened yet, and until all workers not covered by the Strasbourg court’s ruling also receive justice for what they endured on state construction sites in Azerbaijan,” said ASTRA’s director, Marija Anđelković, during the panel.

Judge in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sena Uzunović, believes that the indicators of international labor organizations are a good basis for deciding whether to focus on gathering evidence for the crime of human trafficking or violations of labor rights “at least initially until other evidence is obtained.”

The topics covered during the round table included prevention and combating human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation, as well as access to justice and legal remedies for victims of human trafficking.

Norwegian Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Olav Rainertsen, emphasized that human trafficking is still on the rise in Europe.

Bojana Urumova, Head of the Council of Europe Office, explained why victims find it challenging to complain.

“Victims depend on human traffickers, relying on them for wages and accommodation, making it difficult for them to complain,” she said.

“Labor inspectors should be allowed to inspect private homes where domestic work is performed,” suggested Kamelija Dimitrova from the Dignita Foundation.

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