MOLDOVA: Tier 2
The Government of Moldova does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Moldova was upgraded to Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by investigating and prosecuting more suspected traffickers, including complicit officials, and increasing budgets for victim protection. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Identifying victims and conferring official victim status continued to be a challenge. Corruption, particularly in law enforcement and the judiciary, impeded prosecutions and influenced the outcomes of cases, including cases against complicit officials. Victims continued to suffer from intimidation from traffickers, and authorities provided uneven levels of protection during court proceedings.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR MOLDOVA
Vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers and government officials complicit in human trafficking; implement measures to address corruption in the judicial sector and law enforcement community, including taking steps to shield trafficking investigators and prosecutors from external influence and internal corruption; exempt all trafficking victims from the requirement of in-person confrontations with their accused traffickers before an investigation can begin; improve protection of victims and witnesses during court proceedings, including prosecutions for witness tampering and intimidation; train police, judges, and prosecutors on a victim-centered approach to investigations and prosecutions; increase access to shelters and rehabilitation facilities for male victims of trafficking; improve cooperation with non-governmental care providers, including coordination on policy development and assisting victims cooperating with investigations; and continue to fund and maintain data for the hotline on child abuse and exploitation.
The government increased law enforcement efforts. Articles 165 and 206 of the criminal code criminalized all forms of trafficking. The law prescribed penalties of five to 12 years imprisonment for adult trafficking; and eight to 12 years imprisonment for child trafficking; and up to 20 years imprisonment in cases with aggravating circumstances. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 168 of the criminal code also criminalized forced labor and imposed penalties of up to three years imprisonment. Corruption in the judicial system remained an acute impediment to bringing traffickers to justice; however, courts demonstrated increasing efforts to prosecute officials complicit in trafficking. Courts frequently reversed convictions on appeal, sometimes without explanation or on weak grounds, although comprehensive statistics on the rate of appeal were not available. The government prosecuted several officials for complicity in trafficking. The former head of a human rights agency, who forced children to beg in Russia, was brought to trial and his case remained ongoing. The Court of Appeal upheld the conviction of the former head of the Biathlon Federation of Moldova for child trafficking; he was sentenced to three years in prison. Several government officials were convicted on charges of facilitating prostitution. In January 2018, the former Deputy Director of Moldova’s human trafficking-specialized law enforcement body was found guilty of trafficking in influence and sentenced to four years in prison. Several government officials were investigated in 2017 for complicity in trafficking. Two police officers were indicted for sex trafficking. A case against a village mayor for labor trafficking remained ongoing. The director of an orphanage was indicted for the sexual and labor exploitation of several children; his trial was ongoing. Several Moldovan diplomats and the head of the foreign ministry’s consular affairs department were investigated, arrested, or indicted for extorting or accepting bribes to facilitate illegal migration.
Authorities conducted 185 trafficking investigations in 2017, compared to 151 in 2016. The government sent 85 cases to court in 2017, compared to 33 in 2016, and convicted 58 traffickers, compared to 56 in 2016. Of the 58 convicted traffickers, 52 received prison terms, with one suspended sentence. The average jail sentence was eight to 13 years.
The Center for Combating Trafficking in Persons (CCTIP), Moldova’s specialized law enforcement body, filled its leadership vacancies and increased staffing, which led to improved working relationships with civil society and international partners, and an initial shift back to investigating complex cases of international sex and labor trafficking. Investigations into large-scale cases, however, remained inadequate. Observers reported prosecution and investigation teams struggled to conduct complex investigations, such as those involving transnational criminal gangs or complex financial transactions. Authorities did not prosecute any large trafficking groups in 2017. Observers reported CCTIP focused on simpler domestic sex trafficking cases rather than complex international cases, potentially to boost the center’s statistics. This focus on statistics moved CCTIP away from its traditional strength of resource intensive victim-centered investigations. However, CCTIP continued to lack sufficient resources, particularly financial resources and experienced investigative staff. Previously, the restructuring of the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) eliminated the use of specialized prosecutors, disbanded the specialized anti-trafficking prosecutorial unit, ended the task force approach to investigations, and reduced institutional knowledge regarding the use of victim-centered approaches to investigations and prosecutions. The PGO subsequently created a new Trafficking in Persons and Cybercrimes unit in August 2016 with five prosecutors who were entirely focused on the investigation stage of the criminal justice process. As observers previously noted, the new unit was not dedicated only to trafficking cases, prosecutors have not received comprehensive training, and the unit remains vulnerable to corruption and political influence. In December 2017, the Chisinau Prosecutor’s Office established an Anti-Trafficking Bureau and concurrently revised internal processes for the assignment of cases, which ensured that only prosecutors who have undergone specialized training will be assigned trafficking cases. Every territorial prosecutor’s office outside the capital was assigned a designated prosecutor to cover these cases. A separate team of six prosecutors within the PGO served as the focal point for international trafficking treaties and monitored the newly established Anti-Trafficking Bureau; it also tracked trends and data.
Prosecutors did not develop investigative techniques that corroborate testimony or consistently employ a victim-centered approach to cases. A February 2016 Constitutional Court decision limited the time suspects may be detained to 12 months. Because final verdicts in trafficking cases can take years, this ruling allowed suspected traffickers to be released before trials conclude, enabling them to flee the country or retaliate against witnesses. Observers reported traffickers tried to manipulate, blackmail, or bribe victims to change their testimony. In 2017, only three victims and their family members benefited from witness protection programs, despite many more in need of such protection. The National Investigative Inspectorate (INI) maintained a policy requiring CCTIP to regularly inform the INI of the suspects in CCTIP’s investigations, to include subjects of search warrants before searches are executed, which increased the risk of corrupt officers warning suspects ahead of raids or intervening in ongoing investigations. During the reporting period, law enforcement initiated eight investigations of suspected witness intimidation, six of which resulted in criminal cases.
Moldovan authorities cooperated with foreign counterparts on multiple trafficking investigations. Mostly using donor funding, the government and international organizations trained police, border guards, prosecutors, and judges in 2017.
The government maintained victim protection efforts. The government identified 249 trafficking victims in 2017, compared with 232 in 2016. Of these identified victims, 48 were children, an increase from 35 in 2016. Some law enforcement officials may have intentionally avoided taking action on victim identification and investigation of trafficking crimes. Border police did not consistently screen undocumented migrants for trafficking before placing them in detention facilities. The government increased funding for victim protection, budgeting approximately 12.1 million Moldovan lei ($709,340) to repatriation assistance and seven shelters for victims of crime and family violence, with increased funding for some shelters and programs offset by decreases to others; this is compared with 8.6 million lei ($504,160) in 2016. The government did not disburse all of the budgeted funds, with shelters and protection programs generally receiving 89 percent of the allocated fund amounts. The government often relied on NGOs and international organizations to supplement government employee salaries and fund victim services; government contributions were often insufficient to cover basic living expenses for both employees and victims.
The government assisted 117 victims with repatriation assistance or shelter care, compared with 124 in 2016. Teams of local officials and NGOs in all regions of Moldova coordinated victim identification and assistance; specialists noted the improvement in the community-based approach police had taken, as law enforcement bodies were responsible for 61 shelter referrals. Through the Chisinau and regional centers, victims could receive shelter and medical, legal, and psychological assistance, regardless of their cooperation with law enforcement. Psychological assistance, legal aid, and long-term reintegration support were insufficient, however, and victims were unable to obtain the free medical insurance afforded under Moldovan law. Victims often struggled to find pro bono legal representation and relied on legal assistance provided by NGOs and international organizations. The weak capacity of social workers in outlying regions led to inefficient and poor quality services offered to victims. These deficiencies contributed to the continued risk of re-victimization. Authorities placed child victims with relatives, in foster care, or in rehabilitation clinics that provided specialized medical and psychological care. Officials interviewed victims 14 years old or younger in specialized hearing rooms with recording equipment with the assistance of a psychologist. Male victims were entitled to all forms of assistance, but lacked access to shelters. Care providers reported bureaucratic impediments to moving victims with severe mental health needs to state-run psychiatric institutions.
The government did not adequately protect victims participating in investigations and prosecutions. Victims were seldom fully informed of their rights. At times, police had reportedly done so intentionally attempting to secure victims’ cooperation. Shelters had little security and corruption undermined police protection. Prosecutors did not maintain regular contact with victims or adequately prepare them for trial. The law required that adult trafficking victims confront their alleged traffickers in person at a police station to begin an investigation, and in some cases on multiple occasions over the course of an investigation and trial; this requirement likely deterred victims from reporting crimes and could re-traumatize victims or otherwise put them at risk. Judges had discretion to allow victims to provide testimony without the alleged trafficker being physically present in the room. Judges disregarded laws and regulations designed to protect victims during trial proceedings thereby violating victims’ rights and allowing traffickers to intimidate some victims in the courtroom so that the victims felt pressured to change their testimony.
The law allowed for victims to file a civil suit for restitution as part of the criminal proceedings. In 2017, victims filed 59 civil suits, resulting in restitution claims of more than 3.5 million lei (approximately $205,180). On January 1, 2018, Law 137 entered into effect, allowing victims to submit compensation claims to the Ministry of Justice in cases when it could not be obtained from the perpetrator. Law Enforcement recovered criminal assets from traffickers totaling 3.4 million lei ($199,320), including cash, vehicles, and real estate. The criminal code exempts trafficking victims from criminal liability for committing offenses related to their exploitation. However, when authorities classified cases under related statutes, such as the article criminalizing forced labor, victims were no longer exempt from criminal liability. The government punished trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subject to trafficking. Similarly, when authorities reclassified sex trafficking cases to pimping cases, victims were no longer exempted from punishment and could be charged with prostitution offenses. Victims could be fined or imprisoned for making false statements if they changed their testimony, whether deliberately due to bribes or intimidation, or unintentionally due to the traumatization experienced. Observers previously reported some cases of authorities charging child sex trafficking victims with prostitution or other offenses; there were no such cases during the reporting period.
The government increased prevention efforts. The national anti-trafficking committee (NCCTIP) and its secretariat coordinated government efforts. NCCTIP has three staff members, which observers stated was insufficient to manage the workload. During the reporting period, NCCTIP, in coordination with an inter-institutional working group that included national and international experts, central public authorities, NGOs, and the OSCE and IOM, drafted a national strategy for 2018-2023 and an associated action plan for 2018-2020. The government approved the plan in March 2018. NCCTIP implemented programs to raise awareness among students and Moldovan citizens abroad, as well as the general public through a website and a national anti-trafficking week. The government provided partial funding to an NGO to manage a hotline on child abuse and exploitation. The government-funded two separate trafficking hotlines, one for use in Moldova and one for calls from abroad; the hotlines are both operated by an NGO. The government provided training for its diplomatic personnel on identifying trafficking victims. The government did not make significant efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor, but did initiate two criminal prosecutions against two foreign citizens for sexual exploitation of children in Moldova.
As reported over the past five years, Moldova is primarily a source country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor, including forced begging. Moldovan victims are subjected to sex and labor trafficking within Moldova and in Russia, Ukraine, and other countries in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and East Asia. Most victims are from rural areas and have low levels of education. Women and children are subjected to sex trafficking in Moldova in brothels, saunas, and massage parlors. Increasingly, girls aged 13 to 15 are victims of sex trafficking. Child sex tourism remains a concern, including from the EU, Turkey, Australia, Israel, Thailand, and the United States. Children, living on the street or in orphanages, remain vulnerable to exploitation. The breakaway region of Transnistria remains a source for victims of both sex and labor trafficking. The undocumented, or stateless, population within Moldova remains vulnerable to exploitation, primarily in the agricultural sector. Official complicity in trafficking continues to be a significant problem in Moldova.