As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Belarus, and victims from Belarus are exploited abroad. Data collected by NGOs suggests the majority of trafficking victims are men subjected to labor exploitation, primarily in Russia. Belarusian victims are trafficked primarily in Belarus and Russia, as well as in Poland, Turkey, and other countries in Eurasia and the Middle East. Some Belarusian women traveling for foreign employment in the adult entertainment and hotel industries are subjected to sex trafficking. 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 2018, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Belarus, in his report to the Human Rights Council (HRC), noted that forced labor remained the most visible violation of economic and social rights in Belarus. In an observation released in 2017, the ILO Committee of Experts reported a 2010 law allows for Belarusians suffering from alcoholism or drug dependencies to be “interned in ‘medical labor centers’ for a period of 12 to 18 months and have an obligation to work; refusing to work results in punishment, such as solitary confinement, for up to ten days.” Authorities have sent more than 8,000 people to “medical labor centers” since 2016. In January 2018, the government rescinded Presidential Decree Number 3 of 2015, the so-called “parasite tax,” which required unemployed persons to pay a fee to the state or potentially face compulsory community service. Presidential Decree Number 1 of 2018, which was adopted with the rescindment of Decree Number 3 and entered into force on January 1, 2019, requires the unemployed to pay for utilities in full without the benefit of government subsidies. The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Belarus, in his 2018 report to the HRC, expressed concern that under Presidential Decree 1, the unemployed may be labeled “anti-social” and potentially sent to “medical labor centers” under the 2010 law. The government continued the practice of subbotniks, which required employees of the government and state enterprises to work on some Saturdays; in lieu of payment to employees for work performed, the government allocated their wages to finance government projects. Although the government does not require private businesses to participate, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus reported repercussions for non-participation in subbotniks, including non-renewal of employment contracts and the revocation of monthly bonuses. State employers and authorities also intimidate and fine some workers who refuse to participate. Authorities require university and high school students to participate, without compensation, in public works projects; in rural areas, they may also help farmers during the harvest season. University students who fail to participate risk the loss of housing in subsidized dormitories or penalization during exams. Per a 2006 presidential decree, parents who have had their parental rights removed may be subjected to compulsory labor, and the government retains 70 percent of their salaries. The ILO Committee of Experts noted its continued concern in 2018 that, although there have been no recently reported cases, some provisions of the Belarusian criminal code, which included forced labor as possible punishment, are worded broadly enough to lend themselves to application as a means of punishment for the expression of views opposed to the government.