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Urgently improve the protection of victims of THB: IT’S A MATTER OF LIFES

ANNOUNCEMENT ON THE OCCASION OF JULY 30, THE INTERNATIONAL DAY AGAINST HUMAN TRAFFICKING

This year’s TIP Report by the State Department, which was ceremonially presented at a ceremony on July 19, and then published on the official website of this institution of the US Government, evaluates the efforts of governments around the world in the fight against human trafficking and highlights strategies for solving this crime and protecting victims. Of the 188 countries included in this report, Serbia was on the list of countries for observation from the second round, which practically means that if we continue with the negative trends, we can easily fall into the third round, i.e., the group of countries that are the worst at the world level this problem.

The definition from this Report, which has been following us for the last few years and is currently being shaken, is that Serbia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. However, these efforts were rated less well this year than in previous ones and led us to the so-called Watch list. Conditionally speaking, being on this list means that the belief in the sincerity of the Serbian state’s efforts to deal with the problem of human trafficking is partially shaken.

Reactions to such evaluations were different and mostly came from the civil sector and certain media. The official reaction of the state or institutions working to solve the problem of human trafficking in Serbia and protect the victims was absent. At the same time, the pro-government media mainly dealt with the evaluations of Russia and Kosovo in the Report. Especially Kosovo, because victims from Serbia were identified there. This is, to some extent, justified because some Serbian victims were identified in Kosovo.

WHAT EXACTLY MEANS THE ASSESSMENT THAT THE GOVERNMENT OF SERBIA REDUCED EFFORT TO PROTECT VICTIMS OF THB?
  • The number of officially identified victims in Serbia over the years remains at the same level, despite experts’ warnings that there are up to ten times more victims of human trafficking in Serbia. In 2020, 57 victims of human trafficking were officially identified, and in 2021 there were 46 formal victims. The percentage of children among victims has been high for years, 30 to 50% (especially regarding the sexual exploitation of women and girls). About 80% of the victims of human trafficking in Serbia are of Serbian origin
  • The Prosecutor’s Office has retained specialized prosecutors for human trafficking but does not have a consistent system of referring human trafficking cases to them. The consequence is the lack of distinction between labor rights violations and human trafficking for labor exploitation, a mild punishment policy for perpetrators (3 to 5 years in most cases), frequent transformations of the criminal offense of human trafficking into a milder offense, intermediation in the practice of prostitution and then signing a plea agreement, even in cases involving children.
  • The Center for the Protection of Victims of Human Trafficking, as an umbrella institution for the identification, treatment, and support of victims, has insufficient resources in terms of staff, expertise, means, and capacity. In addition, the report points to non-transparency regarding the official identification of victims and unequal access to support and treatment of foreign victims compared to domestic ones.
  • The shelter for THB victims, which functions as part of the Center, has a small capacity (6 victims and possibly three of their children), is intended only for women, and till recently, it was out of order due to the lack of a license. Victims are accommodated in alternative accommodation, NGO Atina accommodation, and shelters for victims of violence of the Centers for Social Work, which is problematic on several grounds.
  • The government did not support or provide funds for NGOs, whose resources state institutions, specifically the Center, often rely on.
  • There have been cases of punishment of victims of sexual exploitation, forced begging, and coercion to commit criminal acts for deeds committed while they were trafficked. So, the principle of impunity was ignored.
  • For some victims, authorities conditioned access to services and support by their participation in investigative and judicial proceedings.
  • Judges rarely award compensation to victims of human trafficking, which is especially rare in criminal proceedings; granting the status of a particularly sensitive witness status is less rare than before, but due to technical lack of equipment, courts often do not implement this decision.
  • However, what particularly marked the previous year and contributed to Serbia’s decline in the TIP Report was the lack of response by institutions in the case of potential human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation. The report states that the Government of Serbia did not protect the victims, nor did it thoroughly investigate the credible allegations that around 500 Vietnamese workers were subjected to forced labor in a factory owned by the People’s Republic of China;… Serbia did not fully comply with its laws and protocols and prioritized investments PRC, rejected the accusations and delayed its reactions. Immediately before the publication of the State Department’s report, ASTRA published a detailed report on the case of Vietnamese workers, which proves with numerous evidence and confirmed indicators (of the UN, ILO, and the Center for the Protection of Victims) that a case of mass human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation took place in Serbia.

Unfortunately, the list of omissions in the attitude of the Republic of Serbia towards the problem of human trafficking does not end here and goes beyond the scope of this announcement.

HUMAN TRAFFICKING VICTIMS FROM SERBIA IN THE WORLD

Serbia and its citizens are not only mentioned in the State Department Report on Serbia but also in reports related to other countries in Europe and the world. So the report maps victims from Serbia in Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Austria, North Macedonia, Slovenia, Israel, and Switzerland. The majority of these victims are women and girls, victims of sexual exploitation, while in Israel, the victims are men exploited in the construction sector.

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Today, On The International Day against Trafficking in Human Beings, we invite the competent institutions, above all the Center for the Protection of Victims of Human Trafficking and the Office for the Coordination of Activities in the Fight against Human Trafficking, headed by the national coordinator, to take a stand and responsibility, respect the allegations and recommendations TIP Report for the improvement of the fight against human trafficking; and take concrete actions to help and support victims in Serbia and also victims originating from Serbia, who were exploited in the other countries.

Placement on the list of countries included in the TIP Report can be reduced to just a number, a word, or a statistic, as long as we are ready to ignore the fact that it is about the lives and destinies of the most sensitive individuals. We hope that the failure of Serbia and its authorities to react and announce the findings of this report does not mean that we as a society are ready to turn a blind eye to this fact.

NGO ASTRA

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