SERBIA: Tier 2 Watch List
The Government of Serbia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated significant efforts during the reporting period by operationalizing a permanent human smuggling and trafficking law enforcement taskforce. The government identified more victims and provided guidelines to prosecutors and judges on non-penalization of trafficking victims. The government developed and distributed guidance on trafficking indicators and trained 630 first responders on applying these indicators. However, the government did not demonstrate increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. The government did not provide sufficient protection to victims participating in criminal proceedings, which exposed them to intimidation and secondary traumatization. The absence of formalized victim identification procedures and an outdated national referral mechanism hindered victim protection efforts. The government did not adopt the strategy and national action plan for 2015-2016 and the anti-trafficking council did not convene. The influx of migrants during the reporting period placed a significant strain on government resources, especially among agencies that combat trafficking in persons. Therefore, Serbia remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR SERBIA
Vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers and sentence them to stringent penalties; provide victims testifying in court protection to diminish intimidation and re-traumatization; train investigators, prosecutors, and judges on victim-centered approaches to trafficking cases; formalize victim identification procedures and update the national referral mechanism, to include formalizing cooperation with NGOs to ensure victims have access to and receive all necessary support services; increase efforts to identify victims, including among migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, and unaccompanied children engaged in street begging; amend the law to mandate non-penalization of victims for acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking; improve training for government personnel on victim assistance and referral; adopt the national anti-trafficking strategy and action plan and involve NGOs in implementation; allocate adequate staff and resources for the Office for Coordination against Trafficking in Persons and existing coordination structures to ensure effectiveness; and elevate the national coordinator for combating trafficking in persons to a full-time position with independent authority.
The government maintained law enforcement efforts. Article 388 of the criminal code prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties ranging from three to 15 years imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government investigated 14 individuals, compared to 10 cases of sex trafficking and one case of forced labor in 2015. The government prosecuted 23 defendants (18 in 2015). Courts convicted 22 traffickers (11 in 2015). Traffickers received sentences between two years and eight months and seven years and four months imprisonment.
Observers reported the government did not adequately implement anti-trafficking laws and prosecutors often chose to prosecute trafficking crimes under other statutes with lesser penalties that were easier to prosecute. For instance, in one trafficking case concluded in 2016 that lasted six years, the trafficker agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of facilitating prostitution and was sentenced to seven months imprisonment. The government operationalized a permanent human smuggling and trafficking criminal taskforce. Each police directorate had an anti-trafficking unit in addition to the specialized anti-trafficking units within the organized crime police and border police forces; however, during the reporting period, these units largely focused on countering smuggling and responding to the influx of migrants and refugees. Seventeen directorates had multidisciplinary anti-trafficking teams that included prosecutors, social workers, and health officials; however, observers reported none of these teams were used in 2016. The government continued to train police, immigration officials, and border police on anti-trafficking issues. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses.
The government maintained efforts in victim protection. The government identified 49 trafficking victims (36 in 2015). Of these, 29 were victims of sex trafficking, seven of forced labor, one for forced begging, one of forced criminality, and 11 of multiple types of exploitation. In 2015, 21 victims were subjected to sex trafficking, three to forced labor, ten to forced begging, and two to forced criminality. In 2016, 21 victims were children, compared to 22 in 2015. The Center for Protection of Trafficking Victims (CPTV) reported the majority of identified victims were Serbian citizens exploited in Serbia. CPTV reported Serbian victims exploited and identified abroad and foreign nationals exploited abroad but identified in Serbia. The government did not provide information on funds allocated for victim protection in 2016. In 2015, the government budgeted 19.7 million Serbian dinars ($168,330) for the operation of the CPTV.
The government did not have formal victim identification procedures and used an outdated national referral mechanism (NRM) to refer victims to support services. Observers reported the NRM lacked established roles and responsibilities. First responders referred potential victims to CPTV, which officially identified victims. First responders referred 150 potential victims to CPTV (106 in 2015); the government referred 81, social welfare organizations referred 42, and NGOs and international organizations referred 27. The government reported approximately 100,000 migrants and refugees transited Serbia in 2016. Authorities identified two migrants as trafficking victims; however, NGOs suspected many more victims remained unidentified. Observers reported CPTV staff lacked proper resources to travel to the location of potential victims and interview them in person. CPTV designed and distributed checklists of trafficking indicators and trained 630 first responders on them. CPTV trained 120 education professionals on identifying child victims. However, observers reported law enforcement in charge of investigating prostitution-related offenses received limited to no training on victim identification.
CPTV had two units, the protection agency and the urgent reception center; however, for the fourth consecutive year the urgent reception center, designed to provide safe shelter and services, was not functional. An NGO-run shelter remained the only specialized shelter for female trafficking victims; local centers for social work operated shelters for domestic violence victims that accommodated female trafficking victims. The government reported child victims were returned to their families, referred to foster care, or provided shelter in one of the two Centers for Children without Parental Care; however, observers reported CPTV lacked specific procedures for child trafficking victims. For example, the questionnaire used in the identification process was not adapted to children and children often did not understand the questions. Observers reported there were no child-friendly premises for interviews and majority of social workers did not receive specific training on working with children. In previous years, government social welfare centers lacked the ability to remove children from their families, even if there was evidence the family had exploited the child. Male victims did not have access to a dedicated trafficking shelter, but an NGO rented accommodation as needed and male victims could access all other rehabilitation services offered to female victims. CPTV assessed each victim for individual needs and developed a protection and assistance plan. The government and NGOs provided psycho-social, legal, education, medical, financial, and reintegration support; however, the government did not have procedures outlining cooperation between CPTV and NGOs on victim services. NGOs and international organizations provided assistance to 28 of the 49 trafficking victims. Centers for social work provided social services, but they often lacked the specialized programs, sensitivity, and trained staff necessary for working with trafficking victims.
Victims’ ability to access support services and assistance was not contingent on cooperating with law enforcement investigations; however, once a case was reported to police, authorities required victims to cooperate with investigations and testify during prosecution. NGOs reported some victims were threatened with prosecution for non-cooperation. Experts continued to report authorities did not adequately protect victims’ rights during lengthy court proceedings and victims frequently had to appear in front of their traffickers; traffickers often threatened or intimidated victims. Observers reported the length of trials and assistance provided to victims depended on the individual prosecutor or judge. Judges did not assign the status of “especially vulnerable witness” to trafficking victims. This status allows witnesses to testify without the defendant present and allows testimony via video link. The law entitles victims to file criminal and civil suits against their traffickers for restitution, but judges continued to encourage victims to seek restitution solely by filing civil suits. Civil suits were lengthy, expensive, and required the victim to face the abuser numerous times; no victims received restitution in 2016. The government provided foreign victims temporary residence permits renewable up to one year; two victims received residence permits in 2016. Observers reported the government did not uniformly apply non-penalization principles for trafficking victims; however, CPTV provided guidelines to prosecutors and judges on non-penalization of trafficking victims.
The government decreased prevention efforts. The government did not adopt the anti-trafficking strategy and action plan for 2015-2016. The government created an anti-trafficking council in 2005 as a consultative body, which observers noted existed only on paper and did not meet. The national coordinator for combating trafficking in persons continued to lead anti-trafficking efforts despite lacking sufficient resources and support from the government; the coordinator is the head of migration for the border police and did not have independent authority. The national coordinator and CPTV director lectured on anti-trafficking issues at universities and the Police Academy. The government initiated efforts to create an electronic national court statistics database. The government operated a hotline to collect human trafficking-related tips, published anti-trafficking efforts on its website, and provided information on trafficking via social media. Police continued to enforce laws against purchasing commercial sex. The government did not make efforts to reduce demand for forced labor. The government licensed and regulated private employment agencies; however, observers reported in practice, tourist agencies performed labor recruitment and were largely unregulated. Serbian troops participated in anti-trafficking training prior to their deployment on international peacekeeping missions. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.
As reported over the past five years, Serbia is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor, including domestic servitude and forced begging. Serbian women are subjected to sex trafficking by Serbian criminal groups in neighboring countries and throughout Europe, particularly Austria and Germany. Serbian nationals, primarily men, are subjected to forced labor in labor-intensive sectors, such as the construction industry, in European countries (including Azerbaijan, Slovenia, and Russia) and the United Arab Emirates. Serbian children, particularly Roma, are subjected within the country to sex trafficking, forced labor, forced begging, and petty crime. Thousands of migrants and refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and neighboring countries transiting through or stranded in Serbia are vulnerable to trafficking within Serbia. Alleged traffickers reportedly influenced some trafficking cases through bribery of the victim or judge.