Thursday, June 14, 2007

Macedonia - source, transit country of human trafficking

Macedonia is a source, transit, and to a lesser extent, destination country for women and children trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation, but the Government made increasing progress in its anti-trafficking efforts in 2006.

These are the keynotes of the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, released Tuesday by the U.S. State Department, in which Macedonia was ranked in the second category, along with other former Yugoslav republics except for Slovenia, and EU members Portugal, Greece, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Malta, Bulgaria and Romania.

Macedonian women and girls are trafficked within the country, from eastern rural areas to western Macedonia for sexual exploitation. Victims originated from Moldova, Albania, and to a lesser extent, other Eastern European countries. Victims transited Macedonia en-route to Serbia, Montenegro, Albania and Western Europe, the report says.

According to report, Government of Macedonia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increasing progress in its anti-trafficking efforts in 2006, particularly through joint law enforcement cooperation with neighboring countries

The government should increase efforts to educate law enforcement on the difference between trafficking and smuggling, take steps to ensure that traffickers receive sentences consistent with the heinous nature of the offense, and make greater efforts to prosecute and convict public officials who profit from, or are involved in, trafficking, the report says.

The Government of Macedonia’s anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts showed positive results in 2006. The Government prohibits sex and labor trafficking through its 2004 criminal code article 418 on trafficking in persons, article 418c on organizing a group for trafficking, and article 191 covering forced prostitution. The laws prescribe penalties that are sufficiently stringent. Occasionally, however, relatively light sentences were imposed on convicted offenders. The government in 2006 prosecuted 48 cases related to trafficking, a significant increase from the 35 cases prosecuted in the previous reporting period.

Using special investigative measures, and in cooperation with the Albanian and Greek governments, the Government of Macedonia prosecuted and obtained convictions and jail sentences in three major trafficking cases. Sentences ranged from 8 months to 13 years’ imprisonment, and included provisions for victim restitution and confiscation of property. Despite these relative successes, the judiciary remained the weakest link in the fight against trafficking in persons, with significant instances of procedural errors and delays extending the duration of proceedings, the report says.

Conviction rates for trafficking prosecutions remained low. Concerns over instances of judicial corruption continued in 2006. Two police officers were found guilty of trafficking-related crimes and received sentences of 18 months in one case, and two years in the other.

The Government of Macedonia made significant efforts to improve its protection of trafficking victims. The government encourages victims to participate in investigations and trials, the report says, adding that the Government made significant trafficking prevention efforts over the last year.

The State Department estimates that up to 800.000 persons are trafficked across international borders against their will each year. About 80 percent of trafficked victims are women and girls, with a large majority forced into sex industry. About 50 percent are minors, the report says.

Many victims are forced into prostitution, sweatshops, domestic labor, farm work or child armies.

Furthermore, millions of women and men across the world become victims of human trafficking within national borders mainly for purpose of forced labor, the report says, citing data from the International Labor Organization.

The repot ranks the countries in four categories - whether the are a source, transit or destination country, whether they comply with the criteria set by US laws dating from 2000 pertaining to protection of trafficking victims and the efforts of governments to eliminate human trafficking.

The fourth category singles out 16 countries where the human trafficking situation is most critical. Four American allies in the Persian Gulf - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain - are among the countries criticized for not doing enough to combat human trafficking.

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