SERBIA: Tier 2
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 Russia, neighboring countries, and throughout Europe, particularly Italy, Germany, and Switzerland. Serbian nationals, particularly men, are subjected to labor trafficking in labor-intensive sectors, such as the construction industry, in European countries (including Azerbaijan, Slovenia, and Russia) and the United Arab Emirates. Serbian children, particularly ethnic Roma, are subjected within the country to sex trafficking, forced labor, forced begging, and petty crime, often by family members. Foreign victims of trafficking in Serbia are from neighboring countries including Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Romania, and Moldova. Bribery reportedly influences some trafficking cases.
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. Victim identification significantly increased, particularly of forced labor victims, though victim care suffered from the absence of government procedures to refer victims to NGO service providers and a lack of training for social welfare center staff on trafficking victim assistance. Fewer traffickers were convicted, and those that were received weak sentences. The government did not afford victims sufficient protection in criminal proceedings, which exposed them to intimidation and secondary traumatization.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR SERBIA:
Increase prosecutions and obtain convictions of traffickers with dissuasive sentences; train investigators, prosecutors, and judges on victim-centered approaches to trafficking cases; provide victims testifying in court with the full range of available protections to diminish intimidation and re-traumatization; enshrine in law non-penalization of victims for acts committed as a direct result of their being subjected to human trafficking; improve cooperation with NGOs on victim referral and increase funding for NGOs providing reintegration services; improve training for government personnel on victim assistance and referral; increase efforts to identify victims among asylum seekers and unaccompanied children engaged in street begging; adopt the national anti-trafficking strategy and action plan and involve NGOs in implementation; strengthen efforts to discourage demand for services of trafficked persons; and elevate the national coordinator to a full-time position with independent authority.
The government demonstrated mixed law enforcement efforts. Article 388 of the Serbian criminal code prohibits all forms of 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. The government investigated 55 cases in 2014, including 35 cases of commercial sexual exploitation and 20 cases of forced labor, compared with 30 cases involving 63 suspected traffickers in 2013. In 2014, the government initiated prosecutions of 17 cases involving 25 defendants under Article 388, compared with 29 trafficking cases in 2013. Courts convicted 26 traffickers in 2014, a decrease from 37 convicted in 2013. Sentences ranged between three and 12 years’ imprisonment. The government did not disaggregate data on convictions for sex and labor trafficking crimes. Trials were lengthy, and the appeals process frequently resulted in the reduction of prison sentences. Observers reported the government did not adequately implement anti-trafficking laws, and prosecutors often chose to prosecute trafficking crimes under other statutes with lesser penalties that were easier to prosecute. Both the organized crime police and border police forces had specialized anti-trafficking units. Each police directorate in Serbia had an anti-trafficking unit; seventeen directorates also had multidisciplinary anti-trafficking teams that included prosecutors, social workers, and health officials. The government, in coordination with NGOs and international organizations, provided training to police, prosecutors, judges, and consular and border officials on recognizing, investigating, and prosecuting trafficking cases, as well as on victim identification and referral. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses. An NGO reported it was offered money by a defendant in a trafficking case to drop its involvement in that case and suspected the judge was accepting money from the defendant.
The government improved identification of trafficking victims, but victim assistance and protection were deficient. Authorities identified 119 trafficking victims in 2014, compared with 76 in 2013. Ninety-eight victims were subjected to forced labor, 16 for sex trafficking, three for forced begging, and two for forced criminality. Authorities referred only eight of the 119 identified victims to NGO service providers, which they attributed to a decrease in victims’ needs and the availability of assistance at government-run social welfare centers. However, observers asserted victims should have been referred to NGOs in much larger numbers because social welfare centers lacked specialized programs and skills to work with trafficking victims and lacked the ability to remove children from their families, even if there was evidence the family had exploited the child. The government maintained a center for protection of trafficking victims that was responsible for victim identification and assistance. The center had two units, the protection agency and the urgent reception center, although the urgent reception center was not functional for the second year in a row. The protection unit lacked specific procedures for dealing with child trafficking victims. The government was unable to estimate total funding for victim assistance but previously reported it allocated 21,864,957 dinars ($219,000) for the center’s operations and salaries in 2014. The center’s lack of procedures for cooperation with NGOs had a negative impact on victim assistance. An NGO operated the only shelter exclusively for trafficking victims, which the government did not fund in 2014. NGOs assisting victims relied primarily on foreign sources of funding. Male victims did not have access to accommodation but could access other services. Specialized shelters for child trafficking victims did not exist; child victims were returned to their families, sent to foster care, or accommodated in one of two centers for orphans. Officials did not follow written victim identification procedures. Police, NGOs, and social service personnel referred suspected trafficking victims to the government’s center, though the center reported referral guidelines needed updating.
Experts reported victims’ rights were not adequately protected during lengthy court proceedings and victims had to appear frequently in front of their traffickers; traffickers often threatened or intimidated victims. Judges demonstrated limited understanding of the complexities of human trafficking cases. Serbian law entitles victims to file criminal and civil suits against their traffickers for compensation, but judges encouraged victims to seek compensation by filing civil suits, which were lengthy, expensive, and involved the victim facing the abuser numerous times. For the first time, one victim was compensated during the reporting period as a result of a civil suit. Foreign victims were eligible for temporary residence permits renewable up to one year, but no victims received permits in 2014, compared with two in 2013. Serbian law did not have a non-punishment or non-prosecution clause for trafficking victims. A sex trafficking victim forced to sign a murder confession by her trafficker began serving her 18-year prison sentence in 2014; the case was under appeal at the end of the reporting period.
The government maintained some prevention efforts. The government did not adopt the 2014-2020 national strategy nor the 2014-2015 action plan despite completing both drafts during the previous reporting period. The national coordinator continued to lead anti-trafficking efforts, although the position was still not full-time with independent authority. The government still had not fully transitioned to a new anti-trafficking council structure including government and NGO representatives. The government operated a hotline to collect human trafficking-related tips, published anti-trafficking efforts on its website, and provided information on trafficking via social media. The government worked with NGOs and an international organization to establish anti-trafficking stakeholder networks in a total of 17 communities. Police enforced laws against purchasing commercial sex and fined clients identified during raids on commercial sex establishments. The government did not make efforts to reduce demand for forced labor. Serbian troops participated in anti-trafficking training prior to their deployment on international peacekeeping missions. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.