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 northern Italy, Germany, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Austria, and Sweden. Serbian nationals are subjected to labor trafficking in European countries, including Azerbaijan, Slovenia, and Russia, as well as in the United Arab Emirates in the construction sector. The government reported that Serbian citizens were subjected to forced labor at various construction sites in Sochi, Russia. Serbian victims often are subjected to trafficking by family members. There are increasing numbers of Serbian children, particularly ethnic Roma subjected to internal sex trafficking, forced labor, forced begging, and coercion to petty crime within the country. Foreign victims of trafficking identified in Serbia are from neighboring countries including Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Romania, and Moldova.
The Government of Serbia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government continued to prosecute and convict trafficking defendants; significantly increased funding for the center for victim protection and trained Roma mediators on victim identification and trafficking awareness. The government, however, only partially funded the only shelter for victims of trafficking operated by a NGO and victims were not afforded sufficient protections in criminal proceedings against repeated victimization and intimidation.
Recommendations for Serbia:
Ensure courts implement the full range of protections in order to diminish postponements in hearings, witness intimidation, and secondary traumatization in trial; ensure victims are not penalized for acts committed as a direct result of their trafficking; increase efforts to identify victims among asylum seekers and unaccompanied child victims in street begging; provide legal service support to victims; train investigators, judges and prosecutors on victim-centered approach and trafficking cases; train labor inspectors on victim identification; improve cooperation with NGOs on victim identification and referral of victims to service providers; increase funding for NGOs providing services to victims; ensure all victims are provided assistance, support, and reintegration services; train center staff on victim assistance, support, and referral; continue to involve civil society groups and NGOs in implementation of the action plan and anti-trafficking efforts; strengthen efforts to discourage demand for services of trafficked persons with regard to all forms of exploitation; and continue to support the national coordinator and elevate the status to a full-time position with independent authority.
The Government of Serbia sustained law enforcement efforts by prosecuting and convicting defendants. Article 388 of the Serbian criminal code prohibits all forms of both sex and labor trafficking, prescribing penalties ranging from three to 15 years’ imprisonment. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 390 of the criminal code prohibits “slavery or a relationship similar to slavery,” prescribing penalties of one to 10 years’ imprisonment. The government reported investigating 63 trafficking offenders, including 35 sex trafficking offenders, compared with 65 in 2012. In 2013, the government initiated prosecutions in 51 trafficking cases under Article 388, compared with 45 cases in 2012. Courts convicted 37 trafficking defendants in 2013 under Article 388, a decrease from 47 convicted in 2012. Courts acquitted nine defendants, and in one case court proceedings were discontinued. Courts sentenced the convicted defendants from six months’ to 10 years’ imprisonment. The government did not provide disaggregated prosecution and conviction data to demonstrate that these cases included both sex and labor trafficking. NGOs reported some progress in reducing the length of trials, but an appeals process frequently resulted in the reduction of prison sentences. For example, a first-instance court sentenced four defendants to 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment in 2012, but due to a convoluted appeals process, changes in judges, and other bureaucratic hurdles, a final verdict was reached in 2013, resulting in a reduced sentence of four years’ imprisonment.
Both the organized crime police and border police forces had specialized anti-trafficking units. Each police directorate in Serbia had an anti-trafficking unit; seven directorates also had multidisciplinary teams that included prosecutors, social workers, and health officials. The government, in coordination with NGOs and international organizations continued to provide extensive training to police, prosecutors, judges, and other officials on recognizing, investigating, and prosecuting trafficking cases, as well as victim identification and referral. Serbian authorities incorporated anti-trafficking modules into internal police training programs and seminars at all levels. Serbian consular and border officials were trained on victim identification in immigration cases. The Government of Serbia did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking.
The Government of Serbia made progress in protection and assistance efforts by increasing funding for the victim protection center and partially funding a NGO shelter, but some victims continued to be punished for acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. The Government of Serbia identified 76 victims in 2013, compared with 79 in 2012. Of the 76 victims, authorities referred 34 to NGO service providers. Of the 76 victims identified, 31 were victims of sex trafficking and 11 were child victims of forced begging. It has been suggested the government should have referred victims to expert NGOs in much larger numbers; the government stated some victims refused such assistance. The government center for trafficking victims was responsible for the identification and protection of victims, and their referral for assistance. The center had two distinct units, the protection agency and the urgent reception center, although the urgent reception was not functional during the reporting period. The protection center continued to be fully operational and assessed the risks for victims, provided victim assistance and support, developed individual protection and service-needs plans to provide for the victims’ reintegration or for their voluntary return to their country of origin and assessed other conditions that might be helpful to a victim. Experts observed that the center lacked specific procedures for dealing with child trafficking victims. In 2013, the government significantly increased funding of the center, allocating the equivalent of approximately $210,000 for operations and salaries, compared with the equivalent of approximately $81,400 in 2012; and allocated the equivalent of approximately $256,000 for 2014. The government also dedicated to victims’ health services the equivalent of approximately $27,000 from the fines prosecutors’ offices collected from dismissed cases. There is no evidence prosecutors dismissed trafficking cases through the aforementioned mechanism, but nevertheless funds were directed to victim care. The government provided free access to social and medical care for both foreign and domestic victims. There was one shelter operated by an NGO for domestic and foreign victims, which also offered legal, psychological, and re-integration services. The government provided the equivalent of approximately $18,000 to the NGO providing shelter to victims, but had not allocated a permanent budget. All victims were entitled to psychological, medical care, legal, educational, financial, and job placement support. Short- and long-term accommodations were available for domestic victims. There were no specialized shelters for male victims, but they had access to the same services. Child victims were accommodated in one of the two social centers for children or in an NGO-run shelter for women until foster care or other services could be arranged. The government allocated the equivalent of approximately $70,000 to an NGO that assisted child victims and identified children who were at risk of becoming victims.
Serbian law provides that victims may file criminal and civil suits against their traffickers for compensation. In 2013, for the first time, a victim who filed a civil suit was awarded compensation for mental anguish. Foreign victims were eligible for temporary residence permits for an initial period of three to six months, renewable up to one year, which were not contingent on cooperation with law enforcement. The government granted temporary residence permits to two foreign victims, compared with one in the previous reporting period. New regulations licensing social protection professionals appear to exclude many qualified NGOs from opportunities to provide services to victims within the social protection system. Police, NGOs, shelters, and anti-trafficking hotline operators work directly with the center when identifying potential victims. The government utilized a referral mechanism in which the center was responsible for identifying victims and cooperating with NGOs and international organizations that provide victim services. Police, NGOs, shelters, and anti-trafficking hotline operators work directly with the center when they suspect they have identified a victim of trafficking, and one of the employees of the center responds immediately to provide identification and emergency support. Most victims were identified initially by the police and then referred to the center for formal identification, reflecting that the referral mechanism appears to have worked in practice. During 2013, all center employees attended 12 training programs on providing legal assistance to victims. The center organized three one-day workshops educating social workers on the role of shelters for victim assistance and sharing information with NGOs on how to conduct individual planning sessions with victims. The government organized a training workshop on victim identification for Roma health care mediators.
Some victims were punished for acts committed as a direct result of having been trafficked. A victim reportedly received a sentence of one year imprisonment for petty crimes he was forced to commit as a result of being trafficked; his sentence was reduced to house arrest. Additionally, a victim of sex trafficking was forced to sign a false confession through intimidation and violence by a trafficker, implicating her in a murder. The case was pending appeal at the end of the reporting period. Victim protection during prosecution reportedly improved overall, but not all judges used all means available to prevent secondary traumatization in court, such as video testimony. In most cases, victims were required to testify in presence of the accused trafficker. Judges frequently showed prejudice against victims and lacked a deeper understanding of the complexity of trafficking cases. Victims often were threatened or intimidated by the trafficker during trial.
The government increased prevention efforts by training relevant Roma mediators on victim identification, assistance, and overall trafficking awareness, and involving more NGO representatives in implementation of the action plan. The government completed drafts of the new national strategy for 2014-2020 and action plan for 2014-2015 in 2013; they were both pending adoption at the close of the reporting period. The national coordinator continued to lead all anti-trafficking efforts, although the position was still not a full-time position with independent authority. The government began its transition to a new anti-trafficking council structure that will include representatives from various government agencies and five NGOs as part of its action plan implementation team. The government continued to fund and operate a hotline for victims. The government published anti-trafficking efforts on its website and maintained a social media presence for anti-trafficking information. The government, in coordination with NGOs, educated 40 local Roma females between 13 and 19 years old on all aspects of trafficking and prepared them to become peer educators. In addition, police presented lectures on human trafficking to another 50 Roma females. The government, in coordination with NGOs, organized seminars focused on increasing the quality of services for victims, protecting victims’ rights, and solutions for effective anti-trafficking operational procedures and mechanisms. The police presented a lecture on trafficking for adolescent students to increase awareness of the different types of internet schemes aimed at recruiting and trafficking. The government conducted an awareness campaign displaying the center’s phone number on public transportation vehicles across six cities. The national coordinator spoke at a public event for “World Day Against Child Labor” about the dangers of child forced labor trafficking. The government did not demonstrate efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor during the year. Serbian nationals participated in required anti-trafficking training prior to their deployment on international peacekeeping missions.