SERBIA: Tier 2

The Government of Serbia 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 Serbia was upgraded to Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by consolidating the jurisdiction for trafficking crimes under one authority to improve investigations, and by creating a stand-alone Office of the National Coordinator that effectively elevated the national trafficking coordinator to a full-time position. The government adopted an anti-trafficking strategy and action plan, allocated 8 million dinars ($79,950) to its implementation, and mandated the reconstituted national anti-trafficking council to meet at least twice a year to coordinate anti-trafficking efforts. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government continued to lack formal victim identification procedures and the national referral mechanism lacked established roles and responsibilities for referring victims to support services. The urgent reception center, designed to provide safe shelter and services, was not functional for the fifth consecutive year. Judges did not consistently assign the status of “especially vulnerable witness” to trafficking victims and the government did not uniformly apply non-penalization principles for trafficking victims. The number of trafficking convictions fell for the fifth consecutive year.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR SERBIA

Vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers and sentence them to stringent penalties; formalize victim identification procedures and ensure their implementation; update the national referral mechanism, including formalizing cooperation with NGOs to provide all victims necessary support services and adopting specific procedures for children; provide victims testifying in court protection to diminish intimidation and re-traumatization; train investigators, prosecutors, and judges on victim-centered approaches to trafficking cases; fully implement written guidance to prevent penalization of trafficking victims for acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking and amend the law to mandate non-penalization of victims; increase efforts to identify victims, including among migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, and unaccompanied children engaged in street begging; allocate sufficient resources to enable the Center for the Protection of Trafficking Victims to implement victim protection efforts and allocate resources for the completion of the urgent reception center; improve training for government personnel on victim assistance and referral; and provide labor inspectors and market inspectors the resources and training necessary to regulate recruitment agencies and investigate cases of fraudulent recruitment.

PROSECUTION

The government maintained law enforcement efforts. Article 388 of the criminal code criminalized sex and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties ranging from two to 12 years imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Law enforcement investigated 13 suspects (14 in 2016). The government initiated prosecutions against 24 defendants (23 in 2016). The government continued ongoing prosecutions for 14 defendants from previous years. Courts convicted 13 traffickers (22 in 2016 and 20 in 2015). Traffickers received sentences between one year and eight years imprisonment.

The government consolidated the jurisdiction to investigate trafficking under the Criminal Police Directorate (CPD); in previous years, the border police and Foreigners Office split this responsibility, which hindered investigations because of unclear jurisdiction and the implication that a trafficking crime needed a transnational element. Observers reported the need to increase the capabilities and capacity of the CPD to investigate trafficking. Each police directorate had both a standalone anti-trafficking unit and officers within the organized crime police and border police that specialized in investigating trafficking. The government also continued to operate a standing migrant smuggling and trafficking task force that coordinated efforts to proactively investigate trafficking. The Public Prosecutor’s Office (PPO) designated specialized prosecutors for trafficking cases, who also acted as single points of contact for investigators and care providers and provided operational guidance. Experts reported strengthened cooperation with the PPO but noted prosecutors faced difficulties in distinguishing the differences between labor rights violations and forced labor. The government trained police, immigration officials, border police, and labor inspectors on anti-trafficking issues, including 60 police officers on the structural change for investigative jurisdiction. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses.

PROTECTION

The government maintained efforts in victim protection. The government identified 40 trafficking victims (49 in 2016). Of these, 21 were victims of sex trafficking, four of forced labor, four of forced begging, one of forced criminality, and 10 of multiple types of exploitation. Eighteen victims were children (21 in 2016). First responders referred 142 potential victims (150 in 2016) to the government’s Center for Protection of Trafficking Victims (CPTV); the government referred 44, social welfare organizations referred 57, and 41 were referred by civil society or other means. Seventeen police directorates also had multi-disciplinary anti-trafficking teams that included prosecutors, social workers, and health officials intended to identify and refer victims in their localities; however, observers reported most teams did not meet and had minimal activities in 2017.

The government continued to lack formal victim identification procedures. The Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs implemented the use of trafficking indicators produced by CPTV but the use of these indicators was ad hoc in other government entities, such as law enforcement and schools. Observers reported law enforcement in charge of investigating prostitution-related offenses, particularly outside of Belgrade, continued to operate with limited or no training on victim identification. CPTV trained first responders on proactive identification of victims, including within migrant and refugee populations. The government used an outdated national referral mechanism that lacked established roles and responsibilities for referring victims to support services. CPTV assessed and officially recognized victims referred by first responders and developed a protection and assistance plan for each victim. GRETA reported CPTV lacked the staff to review cases in a timely manner and resources to travel to the location of potential victims and interview them in person. Experts also reported concern about the lack of control and transparency over the official victim assessment.

The government did not provide information on funds allocated for victim protection in 2016 or 2017. The government did not provide funding to NGOs despite relying on their victim support and reintegration services. The government and NGOs provided psycho-social, legal, educational, medical, financial, and reintegration support; however, the government had limited procedures outlining cooperation with NGOs on victim services. CPTV had two units, the protection agency and the urgent reception center, but for the fifth consecutive year the urgent reception center, designed to provide safe shelter and services, was not functional. An NGO-run shelter remained the only specialized shelter for female trafficking victims; local centers for social work (LCSW) operated shelters for domestic violence victims that also accommodated female trafficking victims. GRETA visited a LCSW-run shelter in Sremska Mitrovica and reported “good living conditions” but these shelters generally lacked the specialized programs and trained staff necessary for working with trafficking victims. Experts reported CPTV referred fewer victims to NGOs for support and assistance in 2017. The government reported authorities returned child victims to their families, referred them to foster care, or placed them in one of the two Centers for Children without Parental Care; however, observers reported CPTV lacked specific procedures for child trafficking victims. For example, the questionnaire used in the identification process was not adapted to children and children often did not understand the questions. Observers reported there were no child-friendly premises for interviews and the majority of social workers did not receive specific training on working with children. The government did not provide specialized support for male victims; an NGO rented accommodation for male victims as needed and male victims could access all other rehabilitation services offered to female victims. CPTV signed a protocol with the National Employment Service (NES) to assist victims in finding employment; NES assisted 36 victims in 2017.

Victims’ ability to access support services and assistance was not contingent on cooperating with law enforcement investigations; however, once a case was reported to police, authorities required victims to cooperate with investigations and testify during prosecution, including children. Observers reported Serbian authorities threatened some victims with prosecution for non-cooperation. Authorities did not adequately protect victims’ rights during lengthy court proceedings and victims frequently had to appear in front of their traffickers. Observers reported CPTV consistently appointed lawyers to represent victims but the length of trials and assistance provided to victims depended on the individual prosecutor or judge. Judges did not consistently assign the status of “especially vulnerable witness” to trafficking victims; this status allowed witnesses to testify without the defendant present and allowed testimony via video link. The government inappropriately prosecuted trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking, particularly forced criminality; however, NGOs reported CPTV successfully intervened to suspend known prosecutions of trafficking victims. The law entitled victims to file criminal and civil suits against their traffickers for restitution, but judges continued to encourage victims to seek restitution solely by filing civil suits. One victim received 2.2 million dinars ($21,710) in compensation from a civil suit in 2017; however, civil suits were lengthy, expensive, and required the victim to face the abuser numerous times. Only two victims received compensation to date. The government provided foreign victims temporary residence permits renewable up to one year; two victims received residence permits in 2017. Observers reported the government provided inadequate repatriation support for Serbian forced labor victims in Slovakia.

PREVENTION

The government increased prevention efforts. The government adopted the anti-trafficking strategy and action plan for 2017-2022. The government allocated 8 million dinars ($79,950) to implement the action plan for the first two years. The government created a stand-alone Office of the National Coordinator, elevating the national coordinator to a full-time position, and allocated five employees and office space. The government replaced the anti-trafficking council with the Council to Combat Trafficking (CCT) and mandated it to meet twice year; the council met in December 2017. CCT founded an interagency working group to strengthen cooperation and a separate multi-disciplinary group to monitor the implementation of the national strategy. The government organized educational and outreach activities, but efforts were on an ad hoc basis. The government operated a hotline to collect human trafficking-related tips, published anti-trafficking efforts on its website, provided information on trafficking via social media and incorporated trafficking issues into grade school curriculums. Police continued to enforce laws against purchasing commercial sex. The government did not make efforts to reduce demand for forced labor. The government licensed and regulated private employment agencies; however, observers reported in practice, tourist agencies also performed labor recruitment and were largely unregulated. GRETA reported the Market Inspectorate may take up to two months to react to reports of fraudulent employment offers. Serbian troops participated in anti-trafficking training prior to their deployment on international peacekeeping missions.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, 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 both in Serbia and in neighboring countries and throughout Europe, particularly Austria, Germany, Turkey, and Italy. Serbian nationals, primarily men, are subjected to forced labor 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 Roma, are subjected within the country to sex trafficking, forced labor, forced begging, and petty crime. Thousands of migrants and refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and neighboring countries transiting through or stranded in Serbia are vulnerable to trafficking within Serbia. Alleged traffickers reportedly influenced some trafficking cases through bribery of the victim or judge.

U.S. Department of State

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