BELARUS: Tier 3*
Belarus is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Each year since 2011, more identified victims have been exploited in Belarus than abroad. Belarusian victims exploited abroad are primarily subjected to trafficking in Germany, Poland, Russia, and Turkey, but are also exploited throughout Europe, the Middle East, and in Japan, Kazakhstan, and Mexico. Some Belarusian women traveling for foreign employment in the adult entertainment and hotel industries are subjected to sex trafficking. Since 2006, the government has identified Belarusian, Moldovan, Russian, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese victims exploited in Belarus.
State-sponsored forced labor continues to be an area of concern. In 2014, the government continued the practice of subbotniks, which requires employees of the government, state enterprises, and many private businesses to work on occasional Saturdays and donate their earnings to finance government projects. State employers and authorities intimidated and fined some workers who refused to participate. Authorities sent university and high school students to help farmers during the harvesting season without paying them for their labors, in addition to other forced community service projects. Authorities reportedly forced military conscripts to perform work unrelated to military service. A presidential decree effective January 1, 2015, enables authorities to force Belarusians to perform unpaid community service if they are deemed to be “parasites” on the tax base. Belarusians accused of alcoholism or drug dependencies are interned at “medical-labor centers,” where they are subjected to compulsory labor. Belarusian parents who have had their parental rights removed are subjected to compulsory labor, and the government retains 70 percent of their wages. Senior officials with the General Prosecutor’s Office and the interior ministry stated at least 97 percent of all work-capable inmates worked in jail as required by law, and labor in jail was important and useful for rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates. Inmates of Belarusian prisons—including political prisoners—cannot choose the work they perform, nor can they refuse to undertake work. Former inmates stated their monthly wages were as low as 30,000 to 40,000 rubles (less than $3). Students who receive their education for free are assigned to an obligatory one- or two-year work placement, as chosen by a state body upon graduation; students cannot appeal their job placements.
A presidential decree issued in December 2012 coerces workers in state-owned wood processing factories and construction workers employed in modernization projects at those factories from leaving their jobs. The decree—which applies to thousands of employees—mandates employees not quit without their employers’ consent. The decree provides monthly bonuses to these employees that must be paid back if the employees resign, and failure to return this money could result in a court order obligating employees to work for the original employers under law enforcement supervision. Employees are permitted to appeal a refusal to leave the job with the government-appointed provincial governor, but not to a judge. Since the decree came into force, there have been reports of a very limited number of workers who attempted and were barred from quitting. Belarusian officials have noted managers can also use the decree to talk employees out of quitting. The government has explained the decree is temporary in nature and workers are free not to sign new contracts required under the decree. However, the government also noted it could not remove the decree because it is necessary during the period of implementation of investment projects in the woodworking industry.
The Government of Belarus does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and was placed on Tier 2 Watch List from 2012 to 2014. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) provides that a country may remain on Tier 2 Watch List for only two consecutive years, unless that restriction is waived because the government has a written plan to bring itself into compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. In the 2013 and 2014 TIP Reports, Belarus was granted consecutive waivers from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3 on the basis of the government having a written plan to bring itself into compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The TVPA authorizes a maximum of two consecutive waivers. A waiver is no longer available to Belarus, which is therefore deemed not to be making significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards and is placed on Tier 3.
During the reporting period, the government continued to be active in multilateral efforts to combat trafficking and hosted trafficking-specific training for foreign and domestic law enforcement officials through the interior ministry’s academy. However, government efforts were inadequate to repeal state-sponsored forced labor policies and address trafficking within Belarus. The government retained a decree forbidding thousands of workers in the wood processing industry from leaving their jobs in state-owned factories without their employers’ permission. Other forms of state-sponsored forced labor continued. Authorities did not convict any traffickers under the trafficking statute in 2013 or 2014. The number of investigations progressively declined in each of the past nine years, from 95 in 2006 to one in 2014. Of significant concern, Belarusian officials have cited the lack of trafficking investigations and convictions as justification that trafficking has been permanently eliminated from Belarus.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR BELARUS:
Revoke the December 2012 presidential decree forbidding wood processing workers’ resignation without their employers’ permission; cease all forms of state-sponsored forced labor; significantly increase efforts to investigate and prosecute cases of forced labor and sex trafficking; finalize and train officials on a national identification and referral mechanism; increase resources devoted to victim assistance and protection within Belarus, including in state-owned territorial centers for social services; provide funding through the January 2013 law allowing public funding for NGOs offering critical victim protection services in private shelters; cultivate a climate of cooperation with NGO partners; refer all identified victims to care facilities; refer identified child victims of sexual exploitation to the education ministry’s centers for vulnerable children; and proactively screen individuals in prostitution for indicators of trafficking.
The government decreased law enforcement efforts. Belarus prohibits both sex and labor trafficking through Article 181 of its criminal code, which prescribes penalties ranging from three to 15 years’ imprisonment in addition to the forfeiture of offenders’ assets. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government reported one trafficking investigation in 2014 under Article 181, compared with six in 2013. The one investigation in 2014 was later determined to be a case related to promoting prostitution rather than trafficking. Belarusian authorities did not convict any traffickers under Article 181 in 2013 or 2014. The absence of convictions under Article 181 reflected a continuing decrease in law enforcement efforts, as authorities convicted one trafficker in 2012, seven in 2011, and 12 in 2010. The number of investigations progressively declined in each of the past nine years, from 95 in 2006 to one in 2014. Three individuals were charged for potential trafficking offenses under other articles in the criminal code in 2014, compared with two individuals in 2013. The interior ministry’s academy continued to provide trafficking-specific training to Belarusian and foreign law enforcement officials.
The government sustained inadequate victim protection efforts. The government did not identify any trafficking victims under Article 181 in 2014, compared with six in 2013 and 12 in 2012. The government identified 19 potential trafficking victims from investigations under other statutes, including 16 Vietnamese victims of labor exploitation and three victims of sexual exploitation. In 2013, authorities identified 14 child victims of sex trafficking under other statutes. NGOs reported assisting 215 trafficking victims in 2014. The government reported law enforcement officials referred 32 of the victims cared for by NGOs. The government continued to lack a formal national victim identification and referral mechanism, though it indicated plans to finalize one in mid-2015. The lack of a formal mechanism may have led to some sex trafficking victims being punished for acts directly resulting from being subjected to trafficking. In 2014, authorities detained 358 individuals in prostitution, 120 of whom were arrested for up to 15 days’ imprisonment. There were past reports of individuals convicted of prostitution offenses receiving punishments of compulsory labor, including street cleaning.
The government did not have trafficking-specific facilities available to care for victims, but local authorities operated 105 “crisis rooms” for vulnerable male and female adults, including victims of natural and manmade disasters, domestic violence, and human trafficking, which offered temporary shelter, including beds, meals, and personal hygiene products. The government did not report how many victims of trafficking-related crimes received assistance at these facilities. Observers reported the majority of victims sought assistance at private shelters because the government’s centers were poorly equipped and lacked qualified caregivers. The government offered free medical services and psychiatric consultations to victims. The education ministry maintained centers that could provide vulnerable children with shelter and basic provisions; however, no child trafficking victims received services at these facilities, despite the government identifying sexually exploited children in 2013 and 2014. A January 2013 law authorized the provision of government funding to NGOs running social welfare programs, though no NGOs providing trafficking-specific assistance had applied for funding. The government provided in-kind assistance to NGOs in the form of discounted rent on office space, lower taxes, and placement of awareness-raising materials on state-owned television and billboards.
The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. The government conducted public awareness campaigns through television, radio, and print media. The interior ministry continued to operate a hotline for safe travel abroad to inform potential labor migrants and identify illegal recruitment practices. The government published lists of licensed companies for employment and marriage abroad. Authorities investigated 52 administrative offenses related to illegal employment abroad and companies failing to obtain licenses, compared with 157 in 2013. The government continued to implement the 2013-2015 State Program on Countering Crime and Corruption, which included anti-trafficking activities. The government did not demonstrate efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex or forced labor. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training or guidance for its diplomatic personnel.
* Auto downgrade from Tier 2 Watch List