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MONTENEGRO (Tier 2 Watch List)

The Government of Montenegro does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.  These efforts included prosecuting more defendants and identifying more trafficking victims.  The government adopted the NAP for 2022, and government coordinating bodies met consistently.  However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity.  The government did not convict any traffickers and reorganized the police office dedicated to investigating trafficking, which reduced its ability to conduct proactive investigations.  The government did not quickly act and establish alternative means of victim protection after experts published credible allegations of abuse by an employee with management duties of the government-funded, NGO-run anti-trafficking shelter (anti-trafficking shelter), including physical violence against victims, intimidation, and blackmail.  Following the misconduct allegations, civil society and international organizations ceased victim referrals to the anti-trafficking shelter.  While the state prosecution initiated an investigation against an employee of the shelter, the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (MLSW) did not suspend the anti-trafficking shelter’s license and funding and continued to refer two child victims and allocate funding to the shelter until the grant ended in December 2022.  Thereafter, the MLSW did not renew the anti-trafficking shelter’s grant, and the government decided to start renovating a government-run shelter for child trafficking victims.  Consequently, there was no alternative shelter or specialized assistance for trafficking victims at the end of the reporting period.  The government attempted to organize accommodations for child victims in foster families; however, it did not develop a concrete plan to provide victim protection for adult victims.  Therefore Montenegro was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List.

  • Establish and provide victim protection, including specialized accommodation, assistance, and support for adult and child trafficking victims.
  • Vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes and convict traffickers using Article 444 of the criminal code, rather than lesser offenses (when possible), including by ensuring adequate staffing and specialization among police officers.
  • Allocate sufficient resources for victim protection, establish standards and guidelines for victim protection, and hire and train staff to provide specialized victim assistance.
  • Increase proactive identification efforts for trafficking victims and screen for trafficking among individuals engaged in commercial sex, migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees, seasonal workers, and other at-risk populations.
  • Provide advanced training to judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement on trafficking investigations and prosecutions, including collecting evidence on subtle forms of coercion or the use of specialized investigative techniques.
  • Increase access to justice and victim-witness assistance for victims, including access to experienced attorneys and Romani interpreters.
  • Integrate Romani groups into decision-making processes regarding victim protection.
  • Create and finance an accessible compensation fund and inform victims of their right to compensation during legal proceedings.
  • Regulate and monitor labor recruitment agencies.

The government decreased law enforcement efforts.  Article 444 of the criminal code criminalized labor trafficking and sex trafficking and prescribed penalties ranging from one to ten years’ imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.  Law enforcement investigated three cases, compared with two cases in 2021.  The government prosecuted six defendants, compared with three defendants in 2021.  Courts did not convict any traffickers, compared with one sex trafficker in 2021 sentenced to one year and two months’ imprisonment.  The government initiated an investigation of misconduct by a management employee of the anti-trafficking shelter for “negligence at work” and “abuse and unlawful deprivation of liberty.”  Positively, the government maintained a multi-disciplinary operational task force to identify and investigate trafficking.  However, the government reorganized the National Police Directorate’s (NPD) office responsible for investigating trafficking.  Following the reorganization, the government moved the Department for Illegal Smuggling, Human Trafficking, and Illegal Migration to a sub-group within the NPD’s Department for Suppression of Serious Crime (DSSC).  This reorganization reduced the NPD’s anti-trafficking police inspectors’ ability to assign specialized officers for trafficking cases in local police offices, according to experts, who reported the DSSC’s jurisdiction also included terrorism, weapons trafficking, and drug trafficking.

Police conducted law enforcement actions in bars, nightclubs, commercial sex venues, escort agencies, and businesses suspected of illegal employment practices; but these raids did not result in any trafficking investigations in 2022 or 2021.  Basic State Prosecutor’s Offices (BSPO) relied almost exclusively on victim testimony with little corroborating evidence; and GRETA reported authorities prosecuted possible sex trafficking cases under lesser crimes that prescribed significantly lower penalties than those available under the trafficking law, such as “brokering in prostitution” (Article 210), due to a lack of sufficient evidence.  In 2022, courts processed many trafficking cases slowly due to a legal amendment that established a retirement age for judges, requiring those that reached or exceeded the age limit to step down, which caused significant delays in transferring and bringing cases to final judgement.  Separately, experts reported some prosecutors stopped potential trafficking investigations when they secured enough evidence to prosecute under other offenses and did not investigate for more subtle forms of coercion or seek additional evidence through specialized investigative techniques.  Law enforcement and social workers justified cases of potential forced child begging, forced labor, and forced criminality involving Roma as traditional cultural practices and customs rather than investigating for evidence of trafficking.  Case referral procedures required the Higher State Prosecutor’s Office (HSPO) to initially review all trafficking-related cases and refer cases not deemed as trafficking to BSPO.  The government, with financial and technical assistance from international organizations and a foreign donor, provided training to – and maintained institutionalized training programs for – police, prosecutors, and judges on various anti-trafficking issues.  The government cooperated with North Macedonian authorities to extradite a suspect to North Macedonia.

The government decreased victim protection efforts.  The government identified seven victims, compared with three victims in 2021.  Of these, three women from Russia were victims of sex trafficking and two girls and two boys from Montenegro were victims of forced labor.  First responders carried out the preliminary identification of possible victims and then contacted police, who recognized the individuals as potential victims.  The government reported screening foreign nationals and individuals in commercial sex for trafficking indicators; however, police and prosecutors generally did not seek to proactively identify victims, according to experts and observers, who reported most ongoing trafficking cases were referred by NGOs rather than initiated by law enforcement.  GRETA reported continued gaps in screening and identifying victims among asylum-seekers and migrants; police did not make identification efforts during the summer tourism season to screen the influx of seasonal workers from neighboring countries.  The government maintained the Team for Formal Identification of Trafficking Victims (TFITV) to assess and officially recognize potential victims and coordinate victim care and placement.  TFITV used SOPs for identifying and referring victims to services, which eliminated the requirement for victims to cooperate with law enforcement to receive services.  TFITV comprised a doctor, a psychologist, an NGO representative, a police officer, a social worker from the Center for Social Work, and a representative from the Office for the Fight against Trafficking in Persons (TIP office); TFITV met 22 times and conducted eight field missions, compared with meeting 15 times and conducting eight field missions in 2021.  The government, with financial and technical assistance from international organizations, provided training on victim identification and assistance to police, labor inspectors, health workers, social workers, and municipality officials.

In 2020, MLSW opened a call for proposals and selected an NGO to establish an anti-trafficking shelter.  In 2022, experts and the Ombudsman’s Office published credible allegations of abuse by an employee of the NGO-run anti-trafficking shelter, including physical violence against victims, intimidation, and blackmail.  While the employee officially resigned in August 2022, the employee reportedly maintained influence in the shelter’s operations.  Following the misconduct allegations, civil society and international organizations ceased victim referrals to the anti-trafficking shelter.  MLSW reported the inability to immediately suspend the license and funding of the shelter and continued to allocate €60,000 ($64,100) for operational costs and €250.00 ($270) per victim per month assisted at the shelter; the shelter accommodated at least two child victims even after credible allegations were known.  The MLSW did not renew the shelter’s grant after it ended in December 2022, and the government adopted a decision to open a government-run shelter for child trafficking victims (the new shelter for child victims).  The government reported plans to renovate a building for the new shelter for child victims that was co-located on the premises of a shelter for children with behavioral issues; however, renovations had not finished at the end of the reporting period.  International organizations and NGOs also voiced their concerns with hastily opening a new shelter and recommended competent NGOs and staff assist in the process.  Until the government opened the new shelter for child victims, there was no alternative shelter or specialized assistance for trafficking victims.  While the government attempted to organize foster families for child victims after credible allegations were known, it failed to develop a concrete plan to provide victim assistance for adult victims.

The law allowed foreign victims to acquire temporary residence permits from three months to one year, with the ability to extend; no victims applied for temporary residence permits in 2022 or 2021.  The law provided victim-witness assistance, free legal aid, and a psychologist to participate in prosecutions; seven victims participated in prosecutions.  However, observers continued to report the government assigned lawyers with little or no experience to victims aid, including lawyers with experience in only civil proceedings and not criminal proceedings.  The government operated support services for victims and witnesses in 15 first instance courts and two high courts that provided assistance during proceedings, including legal and logistical assistance, and measures to prevent re-traumatization.  Authorities hired interpreters when necessary from an official list of court interpreters, although the list did not include a Romani interpreter.  Judges did not issue restitution in criminal cases or seize assets and property from traffickers towards restitution and/or compensation.  Similarly, courts have not awarded any victims compensation in civil proceedings; civil proceedings frequently last two to five years which discourages victims from seeking such compensation.  The law on compensation of victims, intended to provide financial assistance to victims of violent crimes, will not go into effect until Montenegro becomes a member of the EU.

The government maintained prevention efforts.  The government implemented the national anti-trafficking strategy for 2019-2024 and adopted the NAP for 2022.  The government maintained a coordination body for monitoring the implementation of the strategy and NAP, which is composed of NPD, HSPO, the Ministry of Interior (MOI), the Ministry of Justice, other relevant ministries, and several local NGOs; the coordination body met twice.  The national coordinator led the TIP office and overall anti-trafficking efforts and chaired the trafficking in persons working group, which consisted of government agencies, civil society organizations, and the international community.  The government allocated €100,806 ($ 107,700) to the TIP office within the MOI, compared with €96,102 ($102,670) in 2021.  The TIP office published limited information on anti-trafficking efforts but, in previous years, experts reported difficulties in sharing and obtaining information from relevant government actors.  The government maintained a cooperation agreement (signed in 2020) between law enforcement, relevant ministries, and six NGOs to strengthen anti-trafficking efforts.  The government continued to award five NGOs a total of €40,000 ($42,740) to raise public awareness on trafficking.  The TIP office, with financial support from a foreign donor and international organizations, continued their multi-year awareness campaign to promote the government funded NGO-run hotline for trafficking victims and produced informational flyers in Ukrainian on trafficking and distributed them to those fleeing Russia’s war against Ukraine.  The government continued to finance an NGO-run hotline for trafficking victims; the hotline received 2,552 calls but most calls focused on obtaining information or reports of other forms of violence (2,961 calls in 2021).  The labor inspectorate, which was trained on indicators of trafficking, inspected businesses and identified workers with contract violations but did not provide data for 2022, compared with identifying 945 contract violations in 2021 and resolving contract violations 234 workers in 2021).  The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.  The government did not have procedures in place to regulate labor recruitment agencies.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Montenegro, and traffickers exploit victims from Montenegro abroad.  Traffickers are predominantly men between ages 25 and 49 and members of organized criminal groups that operate in the Western Balkans.  Victims of sex trafficking identified in Montenegro are primarily women and girls from Montenegro, neighboring Balkan countries, and, to a lesser extent, other countries in Eastern Europe.  Traffickers exploit victims in the hospitality industry, including bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and cafes.  Children, particularly Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptian children, are exploited in forced begging.  Romani girls from Montenegro reportedly have been sold into marriages and forced into domestic servitude in Romani communities in Montenegro and, to a lesser extent, in Albania, Germany, and Kosovo.  Migrants from neighboring countries are vulnerable to forced labor, particularly during the summer tourism season.  Transnational organized criminal groups exploit some Montenegrin women and girls in sex trafficking in other Balkan countries.  In 2020, traffickers recruited Taiwanese workers, confiscated their passports and restricted their movement, and set up a call center where they forced the Taiwanese victims to make fraudulent calls.

U.S. Department of State

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