Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia

by ASTRA - Anti trafficking action (ASTRA - Akcija protiv trgovine ljudima)
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Support victims of human trafficking in Serbia
Public space installation - Labyrinth of THB
Public space installation - Labyrinth of THB

With the HOW CLOSE ARE YOU? campaign, which will last from September until the end of 2022, we will try to raise awareness that anyone can be a victim of human trafficking and that human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation takes place nearby.

We want to encourage people to pay attention, recognize trafficking in their environment and report the case. But at the same time, if they are a potential victim, we want to educate them to recognize the early signs that may indicate that they have received a false job offer or are at risk so that they seek advice or help based on that. We especially appeal to employees in health care, social care, prosecutor's office, courts, police, and competent institutions (whose role is essential in recognizing and protecting victims of human trafficking) to perform their duties in an informed and responsible manner.

We will started the information and prevention campaign of human trafficking, i.e., one of its increasingly present forms - human trafficking for labor exploitation, with a public event that will take place on Republic Square, on Wednesday, September 21, at 12 noon.

On this occasion, an installation - Labyrinth of human trafficking was installed on the Square. With this labyrinth, we wanted to bring the experience of victims of human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation closer to citizens. By moving through the labyrinth, citizens were able to learn more about the ways of entering the chain of human trafficking and the types of prevention and assistance available to them. The labyrinth was set until September 23 at 5 p.m., and members of our team informed passers-by during those three days about prevention methods, the rights of victims of labor exploitation, and free-of-charge ASTRA support services.

Most victims of human trafficking exploited on the territory of Serbia are citizens of our country. Out of a total of 46 officially identified victims of human trafficking in Serbia in 2021, 39 of them are Serbian citizens. These are official data, but many victims of human trafficking who never reach state authorities or non-governmental organizations remain invisible and far from the public eye, because exploitation occurs in closed spaces, private households, fields, estates, or fenced and closed factories and construction sites. The number of undetected and unrecognized cases of human trafficking by system institutions, according to experts' estimates, can be up to 10 times higher than the number of registered victims. According to the latest report of the International Labor Organization (ILO), in 2021, the number of victims of human trafficking raised to 10 more million (a total of 50 million people), while around 28 million people worldwide are in a situation of forced labor. In this sense, Serbia is no exception. Moreover, bearing in mind the strategic-geographical position of Serbia, economic and war migration, the covid pandemic, and its consequences on the economy, the number of (potential) domestic and foreign trafficking victims is increasing. Numerous cases indicate this from the practice of ASTRA, some of which never reach the public, and some are discussed but in a limited form.

Although the crisis, society, and the unresponsiveness of the institutions are pushing us to accept a situation in which an increasing number of people in our environment will agree to difficult working conditions or find themselves in a situation of forced labor that they cannot leave − with the campaign HOW CLOSE ARE YOU? We want to remind our citizens that we are dealing with human lives and destinies that can be permanently damaged or destroyed by such treatment. And that's why: Report, it is a matter of life! ASTRA SOS hotline 011 785 0000.

The campaign will be based on three storylines from the practice of ASTRA that best illustrate the contemporary forms of human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation that we have encountered in recent years. It will also cover the causes and consequences of this criminal act and how actors in combating human trafficking, competent institutions, and society reacted to them. Our goal, as ever before, is to improve the position of victims and potential victims of human trafficking in our society.

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More than 13,000 citizens of Ukraine have passed through Serbia since the beginning of the war on Ukraine's territory, while more than 6,000 are still in Serbia. Most of them are located in reception centers. The reception camp in Bujanovac near Vranje is mainly specialized for migrants from Ukraine. According to our information, most of the people in the camp are children and women. Also, some children travel unaccompanied. Many refugees in Serbia are here independently, i.e., they found temporary accommodation on their own.

The influx of refugees has mobilized not only humanitarians but also many traffickers and smugglers, who are trying to make money by exploiting this particularly vulnerable group. Immediately after the beginning of the war and migrations from many border crossings, there were reports that human traffickers were noticed in the border area. Women and children are especially at risk. That is why ASTRA has developed information flyers in Ukrainian intended for safe migration and protection from human trafficking and disappearances of children with contacts for case reporting, help, and support!

To distribute information leaflets to those who need them most, we contacted the Embassy of Ukraine in Belgrade and activist organizations and groups working with refugees. We forwarded part of the material with the help of women's and human rights activists at the border crossings between Ukraine and Poland, bearing in mind that the influx of refugees from Ukraine to Poland is the largest. With the help of organizations from the south of Serbia, we distributed the rest to the reception centers.

We learned from the staff of the Ukrainian Embassy that most of the migrants from Ukraine who are currently in Serbia are in transit and intend to continue to one of the countries of Western Europe or back to Ukraine, to cities where there are no war conflicts at the moment.

For now, there are no identified victims of human trafficking originating from Ukraine on the territory of Serbia. However, we will find out the real consequences of this war conflict in this sense only much later.

LINK PDF protection against human trafficking:

LINK PDF reporting missing children:

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On 18 October, the EU International Day against Trafficking, ten European civil society organizations received their Child10 Award at the Royal Castle in Stockholm, Sweden. Amongst these organizations is ASTRA, who, together with the other nine organisations were awarded for their work against human trafficking and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation of girls. The Award was presented by Her Majesty Queen Silvia.

The Global Report on Trafficking in persons from United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows that every third victim of human trafficking are children and that 9 out of 10 of the victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation are girls and women. The selected Awarded Members are all organizations working to eradicate the commercial sexual exploitation of children and to support the victims all around Europe.

– This year’s Awarded Member Organizations are all dedicated organizations in the fight against trafficking and sexual exploitation of children in Europe. They all have impressive track records and are making a substantial impact on the ground. We are extremely proud to have them as a part of our network, says Jacob Flärdh, Secretary General Child10.

The ten organizations selected as Child10 Awarded Members for 2021 have, during the past year, been working together to identify common challenges and best practices as well as jointly advocating for effective and durable solutions. They have also received a grant of 10.000 Euros from Her Majesty Queen Silvia´s Foundation as well as an individual support program to scale the impact of their organizations in support of our program partner Applied Value.

Astra has been a driving force in protecting victims of human trafficking in Serbia for two decades and  has remained true to its cause despite a very challenging context. They are today one of the strongest, loudest and most credible voices against human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Serbia and the region. Astra’s strong commitment to be at the forefront, supporting victims and applying a holistic rights-based approach to human trafficking is impressive − it was said at the award ceremony.

One of the highlights during the seminar was a high-level panel discussion where particiapnts included Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, the Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, Ilias Chatzis, the Chief of UNODC’s Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Section, Diane Schmitt, the EU Anti-trafficking Coordinator and Erik Wottrich, the Head of Sustainability at Tele2.

– Organizations and governments all around Europe are testifying on the increase of human trafficking and other forms of commersial sexual exploitation during the pandemic. These kinds of meetings and discussions we have had today, aiming to increase the collaboration between actors in various countries are extremely important to stop this exploitation, says Jacob Flärdh. 

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On October 7, the European Court of Human Rights issued a long-awaited verdict in the case of Zoletic and Others v. Azerbaijan - 20116/12, in favour of 33 citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, who were recruited in 2009 and taken to Azerbaijan where they were forced to work.

The case of labor exploitation of the citizens of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia in Azerbaijan is, according to its size and the number of exploited persons, one of the largest, if not the largest registered labor exploitation case in this region. According to data which workers, whom we talked with, there were 920-1040 workers engaged in the construction sites ran by SerbAz Company in Azerbaijan.

The court ruled that The Respondent State failed to comply with its procedural obligation to institute and conduct an effective investigation of the applicants' claims concerning the alleged forced labour and human trafficking. The state of Azerbaijan was aware that workers are potential victims of human trafficking and forced labour. This information was made available to government officials and authorities based on several reports: (1) ASTRA report (a report based on the testimony of injured workers compiled by ASTRA in cooperation with partner organizations from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia), (2) the 2011 report of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance ECRI, and (3) the report of the Council of Europe Group of Experts on Trafficking in Human Beings GRETA from 2014.

In addition, all injured workers were awarded compensation for non-pecuniary damage of 5,000 euros, which should be paid to them by the state of Azerbaijan.

We are very pleased that we have contributed to the fact that even this piece of justice that the victims of the SerBAz case deserve sees the light of day. You can find more about the verdict and the SerBaz case (with a few useful links) HERE!

In the past 20 years, our citizens have been exploited in Malta, Azerbaijan, Russia, Slovakia, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and others. At the same time, both domestic and foreign citizens were exploited in Serbia, but so far there has been no verdict in Serbia on this occasion.

Circumstances change, what you wanted and what motivates you to always do more than expected, sometimes get such a positive outcome. We expect that the EC ruling will have a direct, positive and encouraging effect on the protection of victims of human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation in our country as well.

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On March 4, 2021, the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Serbia accepted the constitutional complaint of ASTRA’s client, a victim of human trafficking who was a minor at the time of the crime, and ruled that her right to the prohibition of human trafficking, granted by Article 26, paragraph 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, as well as the right to a trial within a reasonable time, granted by Article 32 of the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, were violated.

This decision of the Constitutional Court is extremely important from the point of view of the entire legal system of the Republic of Serbia. By determining the violation of the constitutional prohibition of human trafficking, it has been indicated that trafficking in human beings cannot be reduced only to the criminal aspect but that it has its constitutional character with the main goal of protecting trafficking victims.

The Constitutional Court considered the prohibition of human trafficking in relation to three groups of positive obligations of the state: 1) the obligation to establish a legislative and administrative framework for the prevention and punishment of trafficking in human beings; 2) the obligation to protect victims of trafficking by providing measures of prevention, registration and assistance to such persons; 3) the obligation to conduct an investigation and court proceedings when there is a reasonable suspicion that a criminal offence of human trafficking has been committed.

The Constitutional Court, in its deliberation, started from the conclusion that human trafficking is a modern form of slavery, and as such is contrary to the principle of humanity, that it insults human dignity and the fundamental values on which a civilized democratic society is based.

In making its decision, the Constitutional Court considered the provisions of the Constitution and the regulations of the Republic of Serbia, international treaties, positions and case law of the European Court of Human Rights, as well as the opinions of international monitoring bodies, such as the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA), which had been expressed in the first and second evaluation rounds of the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings in relation to Serbia.

The Constitutional Court found that there was a violation of the positive obligation of the state in relation to the victim of trafficking in human beings by non-compliance with the preventive measures, protection and assistance to such persons granted by Article 26 para. 2 of the Constitution, as the court did not provide any measures of protection and assistance to the victim, who at the time of the crime was a child according to international treaties, or a juvenile according to the Criminal Code; that it did not adjust the conduct of the proceedings to the finding of the court expert, in which the state of traumatization of the victim had been established; that it did not respond to the request for granting the status of a particularly sensitive witness, as well as the request regarding the method of examining the injured person as a witness, which led to the secondary victimization of the injured.

The Constitutional Court found that the principle of opportunity, which deviates from the principle of legality of official prosecution, was based on the need to avoid lengthy, costly criminal proceedings and that it applied to less serious criminal offences in cases in which summary proceedings are conducted. Given the above, the Constitutional Court reiterates that the principle of opportunity, in this case, was applied after five years and six months of proceedings, which violated the essential ratio of this procedural mechanism.

Because the principle of opportunity was applied, based on a reclassification of the criminal offence from a serious offence of human trafficking into a minor offence of aiding and abetting the perpetrator, where the victim was a child, by misapplication of procedural rules, the Constitutional Court has concluded that, for the crime of human trafficking, proceedings should include thorough consideration of all the constituent elements and available evidence until a court decision is made.

The Constitutional Court considers that in this concrete case, the competent state bodies – the Higher Public Prosecutor’s Office in Belgrade and the Higher Court in Belgrade have not fulfilled their positive obligations in the procedural aspect in relation to the prohibition of all forms of trafficking granted by Article 26 para. 2 of the Constitution, i.e. obligations to conduct an effective and fair procedure, which would result in delivery of a relevant court decision.

The Constitutional Court pointed out that in the present case, no amount of money could compensate for the human rights violations suffered by the complainant, but it still determined the compensation for non-material damage in the total amount of EUR 5,800, at the expense of the Ministry of Justice.

The decision was published in the “Official Gazette of the Republic of Serbia”.

Bearing in mind that for many years ASTRA has been pointing out (in the legal analysis of court decisions for the crime of Human Trafficking under Article 388 of the CC of RS) to the omissions in the treatment of trafficking victims, as well as the trend of reclassification of this crime into minor offences, after which a plea agreement is concluded with the defendant − this decision of the Constitutional Court gives hope to trafficking victims in better treatment and protection of their rights.

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Project Leader:
Marija Andjelkovic
Belgrade, Serbia
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