The government decreased already minimal law enforcement efforts. Articles 127.1 (trafficking in persons) and 127.2 (use of slave labor) of the criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Article 127.1 prescribed penalties of up to five years’ prison labor or up to six years’ imprisonment for crimes involving an adult victim, and three to 10 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim. Article 127.2 prescribed penalties of up to five years’ prison labor or up to five years’ imprisonment for crimes involving an adult victim, and up to five years’ prison labor or three to 10 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with punishments prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. However, inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, these articles established the use of force, fraud, or coercion as an aggravating factor, rather than an essential element of the crime. There were reports authorities often prosecuted trafficking crimes under related statutes, including Articles 240 (involvement in prostitution), 240.1 (receiving sexual services from a minor), and 241 (organization of prostitution), the penalties for which were generally lower than the penalties prescribed for trafficking crimes. The government did not report data on trafficking criminal cases, making it difficult to assess the adequacy or effectiveness of law enforcement efforts. Media reports revealed some details on trafficking cases investigated and prosecuted, including some conviction information, although the limited number of cases reported did not constitute an adequate law enforcement response compared with the scale of human trafficking in Russia.
In January 2023, authorities opened an investigation under Article 127.2 into the forced labor of two Uzbek workers on a construction site. In February 2023, media reported authorities arrested five suspected traffickers who allegedly exploited women in commercial sex in foreign countries between 2010 and 2019. In November 2022, media reported the government prosecuted and convicted three traffickers for abducting and selling four men and three women to farmers for the purpose of forced labor; the court issued sentences ranging from eight to 10 years’ imprisonment. In comparison, in 2021, the government and media publicly reported the government conducted four labor trafficking investigations, 13 prosecutions under Articles 127.1 and 127.2, and convicted five traffickers. In previous years, authorities prosecuted suspected traffickers under commercial sex and “pimping” statutes; the government did not report trafficking cases under these statutes in 2022. NGOs noted hundreds of trafficking-related cases were reported to authorities, but the government processed most under other administrative or criminal codes, which suppressed statistics and masked the scale and scope of the problem. Media reported in 2021 that courts convicted 7,081 people under articles related to various forms of exploitation, including the “organization of illegal migration,” “the enslavement of a person,” and kidnapping; however, courts only convicted 16 people under Article 127.1 and no one under Article 127.2. The government did not report whether it trained law enforcement or judicial authorities on trafficking. Russian authorities did not report cooperating in any new or ongoing international investigations in 2022. In July 2022, the government signed a plan with Kyrgyzstan to carry out activities in several areas, including human trafficking. In October 2022, the government signed a three-year plan with Vietnam to cooperate in various fields, including combating human trafficking.
Official complicity in trafficking and other crimes remained a significant concern. NGOs reported government officials and police regularly accepted bribes in exchange for not pursuing trafficking cases, and officials often benefitted financially or materially from trafficking crimes. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes. However, in prior years civil society reported the government intentionally investigated official complicity cases under non-trafficking statutes, such as Article 290 (bribery) of the criminal code. In the years following Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine, Russia-led forces reportedly used children to perform armed duty at checkpoints, and to serve as fighters, guards, mailpersons, and secretaries, as well as informants and human shields. Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, media highlighted new reports of Russian forces using children as human shields. Observers reported Russia-associated military associations and clubs, registered as non-profit organizations, continued to routinely prepare youth in Russia-occupied areas of Ukraine for conscripted service in Russia’s armed forces; some observers reported Russian-led forces conscripted Ukrainian youth as young as sixteen, some of whom may have participated in fighting. In August 2022, media reported “so-called Russian authorities” in Russia-occupied territory in eastern Ukraine opened a military summer camp for children, where children were taught to use firearms. In November 2022, Russian occupying forces in Crimea reportedly approved a program of “preliminary military training” for schoolchildren of all ages beginning in the current academic year; this program included training on small arms and ammunition and military drills and formations. Experts reported Russian authorities placed thousands of Ukrainian children in “re-education” camps in Russia and Russia-occupied Crimea; in some cases, instruction included military education and training. All children placed in these camps remained vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, including human trafficking. Moreover, multiple reports indicated Russia-led forces forcibly moved thousands of Ukrainians, including children, to Russia through “filtration camps” in Russia-occupied areas of Ukraine, where they were deprived of their documents and forced to take Russian passports. Observers noted there were reports of forced labor in filtration detention centers, including prisoners forced to work on town improvement projects, coerced into enlisting in a local police force, and forced to repair, paint, and clean barracks. Widespread reports indicated Russian authorities forcibly transported thousands of Ukrainians into Russia, including to some of its most remote regions, and reportedly forcibly separated some Ukrainian children from their parents and gave the children to Russian families. Widespread and persistent reports also indicate Russian authorities transported, without consent, thousands of Ukrainian children from Ukrainian orphanages and foster families to Russia, where Russian authorities gave them to Russian families. Ukrainians forcibly displaced to Russia were highly vulnerable to trafficking. Observers reported Russian authorities used Ukrainian children as informants to gather information about the location of strategic military objects, such as checkpoints and transportation routes. The government also used Russian children to make tactical stretchers and sew clothes for Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine and announced that high school students in Russia would receive hands-on training with weapons starting in 2023. During the reporting period, there were reports the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group unlawfully recruited and used child soldiers in the Central African Republic. Additionally, during the reporting period, media highlighted uncorroborated reports that the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group kidnapped boys in the Central African Republic and exploited them in forced labor in mines.
Persistent and widespread reports indicated the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group recruited convicts, including prisoners from Central Asia, in Russian prisons to fight in Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine; these convicts were reportedly offered a pardon, freedom, and monthly salary in exchange for fighting, but observers noted there was no legal guarantee the prisoners would be freed upon completion of service, nor that they would receive their salaries. Moreover, reports indicated the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group threatened prisoners who refused to fight with execution. Uncorroborated reports indicated Russian authorities coerced and threatened Russian university students to sign consent forms to early conscription. Observers also reported Russian authorities coerced, used deception, and in some cases force, including torture, to conscript migrants, particularly Central Asian migrants. Furthermore, observers noted the government’s mobilization decree issued in 2022 banned volunteer recruits from ending their contracts. Persistent and widespread but unconfirmed reports indicated Russia-led forces attempted to conscript or force many Ukrainians in eastern Ukraine to fight against their own country or engage in forced labor, such as to clear rubble and dispose of corpses. In October 2022, the government issued a decree imposing martial law in Russia-occupied territory in eastern Ukraine, giving authorities the power, among other things, to force people to work “for defense needs.” In January 2023, media reported the Russian government issued a decree to build a sprawling prison network, including three forced labor camps, in Russia-occupied territory in eastern Ukraine.
Despite credible reports of North Koreans in Russia working under conditions that amount to forced labor, the Russian government did not report any investigations into those conditions. In violation of UNSCRs 2375 and 2397, migrants from the DPRK continued to work in Russia, especially in the Far East, often under conditions of forced labor. The government previously reported approximately 500 DPRK workers remained in the country at the onset of the pandemic in March 2020; the government did not report how many North Korean workers remained in 2022. Despite the government claiming it would cease issuing new work permits to North Korean workers, observers noted many workers continued to enter the country fraudulently to work informally, for example by obtaining tourist or student visas. The government issued or renewed 4,723 visas to North Korean citizens in 2022 (compared with 4,093 in 2021) The government recorded 12,954 migration registrations of North Korean citizens in 2022, including 133 for tourist purposes, 9,571 for student purposes, and 2,314 for other purposes; experts noted many of these visa holders worked illegally in Russia, making them vulnerable to trafficking. In late 2022, media reported Russian authorities openly discussed inviting 20,000 to 50,000 North Korean workers to Russia, mainly to work on infrastructure projects in the Far East. Media reports also indicated Russian and DPRK authorities discussed sending North Korean workers to Russia-occupied territory in eastern Ukraine. Authorities did not report screening North Korean workers for trafficking indicators or offering victims options to legally remain in the country. A February 2016 agreement between Russia and the DPRK enabled Russian authorities to deport North Koreans residing “illegally” in Russia, possibly even those with refugee status. Observers noted this may increase the risk of labor trafficking for North Koreans working in Russia and might subject victims to grave harm as DPRK authorities reportedly arrested, imprisoned, subjected to forced labor, tortured, and sometimes executed repatriated trafficking victims. In January 2023, media reported DPRK authorities requested Russian cooperation in thwarting DPRK workers from fleeing their work and living places in Russia.