05 Feb MONTENEGRIN JUDICIAL AUTHORITIES DO NOT RECOGNIZE TRAFFICKING IN HUMAN BEINGS: Victim’s Tears are not Trusted
A fifteen year old girl, originally from Kosovo, has already been “married” three times, and she has now been expecting with her last arranged husband. However, courts dropped the charges against her father, marriage contractor, and her second husband, for contracting a child’s forced marriage, on the grounds of the lack of evidence.
The girl ran away from home when she was 13, to live with her boyfriend (17). They were together just for a month. She had to leave him because her boyfriend’s family did not want to pay her father for “marriage”. Soon, her father arranged a new marriage with a boy from Montenegro, recommended by a relative through Facebook.
According to her testimony, she illegally crossed the border with her father, who brought her to the next husband. The father was paid a thousand Euro by her father-in-law for this arrangement. It was agreed that equal amount would be paid out upon his next visit to his daughter.
The marriage lasted for about six months. The girl was a victim of various forms of violence by her husband, brother-in-law and father-in-law. She states that she was often hungry and beaten up by everyone. She also claims that she was forced by her brother-in-law to have sexual intercourse with him. She was threatened by her disabled father-in-law to have sex with him as well. Since the remaining thousand euros agreed for her marriage was never paid and after her complaints about the violence she was exposed to, her father reported the case to the police.
She was then taken to a shelter for victims of trafficking in Montenegro, where she spent two months. The police detained her husband and father. The procedure for the criminal offense of trafficking in human beings (contracted marriage) was initiated against her father. The court released him, stating that her testimony was insufficiently supported by evidence, and that there was no witness that such thing ever happened.
She then returns to Kosovo where she begins to live in a shelter for victims of trafficking and undergoes a (re)integration programme. A few months later, when she left the shelter, her father sold her again to a 42-year old man. She is currently expecting.
A painful story of the girl was told to a journalist from the Centre for Investigative Journalism of Montenegro (CIN-CG) by the President of the Montenegrin Women’s Lobby Aida Petrovic, who is managing Shelter for Victims of Trafficking. The case of the young Roma girl is just one of many which either did not get to court or ended up by acquitting oppressors and exploiters.
Despite still being recognized as a country of origin, transit and final destination of trafficking in human beings, no final judgement has been made by courts in Montenegro in the last three years, while only one case was processed in the aforementioned period. The competent institutions put the blame on each other and even victims for such a defeating outcome.
In the last 13 years, 34 people have been convicted in Montenegro for the criminal offense of trafficking in human beings, while five have been finally acquitted of the charges. In the same period, 38 victims of trafficking were registered, of which 11 were men and 9 were minors. However, according to the Montenegrin Women’s Lobby, which is leading the Shelter for Victims of Trafficking, 177 potential victims were staying there in the last 13 years, of which 69 were minors. Apart from eight domestic ones, other victims were foreign nationals between 12 and 45 years old. The crimes committed against them concerned labour and sexual exploitation, unlawful marriages and forced begging. Apart from Montenegro, the victims came from Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine and Bangladesh.
In the same thirteen-year period, the police filed 21 criminal charges for trafficking in human beings, while the prosecution filed 20 indictments against 59 persons. The convicted were mostly men from 30 to 60 years old, originating from Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, Albania, Croatia and Ukraine. Article 444 of the Criminal Code of Montenegro prescribes a prison sentence of one to fifteen years for trafficking in human beings. If the victim is underage, the minimum penalty is three years. According to the legal definition, trafficking in human beings includes sexual and labour exploitation, abuse of children in pornography, trafficking in human organs and stem cells, forced marriage…
EC: There is trafficking, but there are no jugements
The latest European Commission document for chapters 23 and 24 states that there has not been a single prosecution for trafficking in human beings or a final verdict since 2015. It is also stated that many potential trafficking cases are being investigated and prosecuted under other offenses, such as brokering in prostitution and people smuggling.
Meanwhile, one case of a sexual exploitation of a 12-year-old child has been prosecuted. The High State Prosecutor’s Office filed an indictment for trafficking in human beings in July last year against two Montenegrin citizens and it has recently been confirmed. The Office for the Fight against Trafficking in Human Beings confirmed to CIN-CG that the Prosecution recognized trafficking in that case, although the criminal charges were filed for rape.
The EC document points out that the main reason for the lack of verdicts is the absence of identified victims of trafficking in Montenegro due to poor capacity at the level of the specialized unit in the Police Directorate, lack of proactive investigations, difficulties with gathering the necessary evidence, lack of awareness on the variety of existing forms of trafficking in human beings. “It is necessary to work more systematically in multidisciplinary teams (especially with the Labour Inspectorate and social workers), and the need for better cooperation between NGOs and police units so as to improve their mutual cooperation and referral of cases to the police by NGOs”, it is stated in EC document. It is also stated that there is still a reluctance of potential victims to act.
The previous EC and State Department (SD) reports pointed out an inadequate number of cases, which discourages victims from reporting trafficking. In the US government report, which refers to the period from April 2016 to March 2017, Montenegro was granted the status of “a country on the Watch List”. Draft paper.
Begging and forced marriages most frequent
“Premature, contracted marriages and begging are recognized as one of the biggest problems”, said Zoran Ulama, Head of the Office for the Fight against Trafficking in Human Beings. He states that the efforts of the Office have not been recognised enough due to a small number of identified victims. Ulama admits that in previous years the Office relied mostly on victims’ testimony, ignoring material evidence, which often turned out insufficient for the court. He added that their priority in the future is to identify victims and strengthen professional capacities of employees in state institutions dealing with this problem.
“Regional cooperation, awareness raising and capacity building are needed. We did a lot in the field of education, especially regarding police. The focus of the activity should be on the local level as much as possible”, Ulama told CIN-CG.
He assessed that Montenegro is primarily a country of transit, and occasionally a country of origin and an ultimate destination for trafficking in human beings.
Aida Petrović claims that there is no progress concerning the identification of victims, and that judicial institutions do not recognize the issue of trafficking in the right way. In her opinion, the centres for social work are the weakest link in the victim protection system.
“Minors should not stay in the shelter. The centres for social work are obliged to appoint guardians, but they cannot be reached on weekends, holidays etc”, Petrović pointed out.
However, Goran Kuševija, Director General for Social Welfare and Child Protection at the Ministry of Labour states that this is not true, and that the procedure for appointing a temporary guardian is concerned urgent, while the centres have on-call duty during holidays and on weekends.
“We have excellent cooperation with the Office for the Fight against Trafficking in Human Beings and we frequently organize joint meetings”, Kuševija said to CIN-CG.
The National Office now under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior
The National Office for the Fight against Trafficking in Human Beings is now under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior. Ulama believes this is not a good solution: “The Ministry of Interior (MoI) did not recognize us in the right way. The Office must have a great deal of independence in decision-making, especially in financial terms”. He explains that the Office now encounters many administrative barriers, and that they are not allowed to do anything without the approval of the Minister of Interior.
“This is a part of organized crime. For example, if a victim appears at 2 or 3 am, I am obliged to provide a taxi, and I can no longer do so without the approval. I told the Minister that maybe I should not be head of this team. I have been a head of the Office for seven years, my term of office expires in September, but if nothing changes I will leave sooner”, Ulama said. He adds that the national coordinators in the region are highly positioned in the system as deputy ministers, state secretaries, ambassadors… “The high positioning of national state coordinators shows readiness and dedication to fight trafficking”, Ulama stated.
CIN-CG tried to get an answer to why the Office went under the jurisdiction of the MoI in spite of the recommendations of the Council of Europe and the European Commission on the need to strengthen this body, as well as if that is preventing the work of this body. Both MoI and Ministry of Justice, as well as Ministry of Public Administration, have declared themselves incompetent, referring to each other.
More or less a secret shelter
Although it could unofficially be heard that the shelter for victims is not completely safe, and that the site is well known to many, Ulama points out that everything is under control. It is situated in “a more or less secret location”, and the victims enjoy protection in every sense. A free SOS line (116666) is available 24 hours a day at the shelter.
“We are considering a different model. Rent for the shelter, which is empty most of the time, is very high. That is why we are trying to find a better solution. We are considering with the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare the idea to rent a flat or some other accommodation upon the arrival of a victim,” Ulama stated.
Norwegian example of the fight against begging as a role model
The child begging opens doors to many forms of trafficking, although it is not a criminal offense per se.
Ulama pointed out that the Office carried out a research, which showed that the biggest child exploiters were their parents.
“There may have been some failures in that field, and the centres for social work would return children to their parents, i.e. their exploiters”, Ulama stated.
He adds that Norway has resolved the problem of the child begging in an interesting way. They adopted amendments to the law, stipulating that giving money on the street is an offense. In addition, a campaign was organized simultaneously. They printed stamps available on all tobacco shops, so instead of giving money, those who want to help can buy a stamp, intended exclusively for children beggars, who can go with this card exclusively to the Centre for Social Work.
“The Centre provides them with all the necessary assistance and protection; they are also obliged to invite parents or guardians, who undergo educations themselves for a certain period. When a child comes home with that stamp, instead of money, they no longer have a motive to send them to the street”, said the head of the Office, adding that we would try to follow the example of Norway.
USA: Far from standards
The State Department report covered 188 countries divided into three groups. The first group includes countries that fully meet international standards for the fight against trafficking in human beings, the second one includes those that do not meet the international standards, but make efforts to combat the problem, and the third one includes countries that do not meet international standards and do not make enough efforts to combat trafficking in human beings. Montenegro remained in the second group, but it was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List.
The report stresses that the Montenegrin Government does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in human beings, and that Montenegro is a source, transit and destination country for sex trafficking and forced labour.
“Victims of sex trafficking indentified in Montenegro are primarily women and girls from Montenegro, neighbouring Balkan countries, and, to a lesser extent, other countries in Eastern Europe. Sex trafficking victims are exploited in hospitality facilities, bars, restaurants, night clubs and cafes. Children, particularly Roma and Albanians, are subject to forced begging. Romani girls from Montenegro reportedly have been sold into marriages in Montenegro, and, to a lesser extent, in Kosovo, and international organized criminal groups occasionally subject Montenegrin women and girls to sex trafficking in other Balkan countries”, it reads, among other things, in the US Government report.
About two and a half million people in the world are victims of trafficking each year and criminal organizations involved in human trafficking earn about three billion dollars a year.