Saturday, April 14, 2007

Improvement seen in Macedonia's fight against human trafficking

Macedonia has shown progress in the fight against human trafficking during the past year, a US State Department report says. However, it adds, women and children continue to be brought into the country for purposes of sexual exploitation, and measures announced by the government have yet to be fully implemented.

The findings came in the latest Country Report on Human Rights Practices, released last month by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour. The document covers 2006.

During the year, at least 30 trafficking-related cases were prosecuted, 100 individuals were indicted, and 56 were convicted and sentenced for trafficking, the report said. It noted that a number of high-profile cases against traffickers have been wrapped up, while others are in progress.

Macedonia serves both as a transit and destination country for the trafficking of women and children, and less as a source country, the findings said. In particular, women and children from Albania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Romania are often transported via Macedonia on their way to Kosovo, Serbia and Western European countries.

At least on paper, the Macedonian government has been seeking to wage a tougher fight. In March 2006, it adopted a national action plan and strategy for combating trafficking.

The two documents called for increased training, programmes for awareness and prevention, and for the establishment of a national co-ordinator for trafficking.

However, the State Department said, "by year's end many of the provisions in the action plan had yet to be implemented."

As a positive example, the report notes that several civil servants involved in trafficking chains have been penalised. A police officer in Gostivar and the police chief in Gevgelija were sentenced to jail terms because of their involvement in the illegal trafficking of immigrants.

It added that Macedonia should enforce penalties that are proportional to the severity of the crime, and that are sufficient to deter perpetrators in the future.

A specific case mentioned in the report is that of Dilaver Bojku-Leku, the so-called "Balkan prostitution boss". In 2003, he was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison, but placed in an "open regime" facility with liberal leave policies, allowing him to potentially engage in witness intimidation while on leave.

In June 2003, Bojku-Leku escaped from the prison, though weeks later he was arrested in Montenegro and sent back. Last month, the Appellate Court in Bitola decided to release Leku five months early, due to "good behaviour".

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