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 Tuesday, June 25 2024 17:53
Marianna Mkrtchyan

State Dept Report: Government of Armenia does not fully meet minimum  standards for elimination of trafficking 

State Dept Report: Government of Armenia does not fully meet minimum  standards for elimination of trafficking 

ArmInfo.The Government of Armenia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination  of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period; therefore Armenia remained on Tier 2,  the State Department's 2024 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report reads.

As the source notes, these efforts included investigating and  prosecuting more suspected traffickers and identifying more victims.  The government increased resources for victim protection, including  to the NGO-run shelter. 

"The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA) published a guide  for social workers to identify victims and developed leaflets to  inform victims on available state resources. The government increased  resources to prevention efforts and sought input from survivors on  the gaps in victim services. However, the government did not meet the  minimum standards in several key areas. First responders did not  consistently screen vulnerable populations for trafficking  indicators. Prosecutors dropped or reclassified cases due to a lack  of evidence or a high reliance on victim testimony without  corroborating evidence. Law enforcement officials did not always take  victim-centered approach in criminal proceedings, and the government  did not implement victim-centered policies and victim-witness  assistance measure. The government continued to fund victim  assistance reintegration programs, which, at times, was not  sufficient to fully meet victim needs," the Report notes.  As  reported by the State Department, 

Prioritized recommendations: Vigorously investigate and prosecute,  trafficking crimes and seek adequate penalties for convicted  traffickers, which should involve significant prison terms.   Increase proactive identification efforts, including implementing  SOPs for screening trafficking victims and training officials on  screening for trafficking among individuals in commercial sex,  migrants, refugees, and other at-risk populations. Provide advanced  training to investigators and prosecutors on trafficking  investigations and prosecutions, including evidence collection and  victim-centered approaches. Increase victim-witness assistance  during court proceedings, such as establishing victim-centered  policies to reduce re-traumatization and strengthening measure to  ensure confidentiality. Seek and implement recommendations from  civil society, NGOs, and members of the Victim Identification  Commission (VIC) on decrees standardizing victim protection.   Increase resources for reintegration services for victims.   Implement legal authorities for labor inspectors to conduct regular  inspections, including non-legal employers, and identify victims  through unannounced visits. License, regulate, and educate local  employment agencies and agents so they can help prevent the labor  trafficking of Armenians abroad, and take steps to eliminate  recruitment fees charged to workers. Establish and implement  preventative measures for labor violations and child labor and  potential child trafficking in state childcare institutions. Train  prosecutors and judges on issuing restitution in criminal cases,  establish procedures to seize assets from traffickers, and create  effective methods to allocate restitution in a timely manner.

Prosecution: The government increased law enforcement efforts.  Articles 188 and 189 of the criminal code criminalized sex  trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of five to  eight years' imprisonment for crimes involving adult victims and  seven to 10 years' imprisonment for crimes involving child victims.  These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex  trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other grave  crimes, such as rape. The government adopted an amendment to the  Labor Code in October 2022, which included a definition of forced  labor. The government investigated 27 cases (four for sex trafficking  and 23 for labor trafficking), compared with eight cases in 2022. The  government continued to investigate three sex trafficking cases and  three labor trafficking cases from previous years. The government  prosecuted eight defendants (five for sex trafficking and three for  labor trafficking), compared with four defendants in 2022. The  government continued to prosecute two defendants for sex trafficking  and two for labor trafficking from previous years. Courts convicted  two labor traffickers in 2023, the same number as in 2022. Judges  sentenced one trafficker to 10 years' imprisonment and the other to a  suspended sentence of five years with three years of probation, which  did not serve to deter the crime or adequately reflect the nature of  the crime. The government did not report any investigations,  prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in  human trafficking crimes, compared with two convictions of complicit  government employees in 2022.  The Police of the Ministry of Internal  Affairs (MOIA) maintained an Anti-Trafficking Unit; however, the July  2022 criminal procedural code required police to transfer only  findings and reports to the Investigative Committee (IC), which was  responsible for starting an official investigation. Investigators in  the IC's General Department of Investigation of Particularly  Important Cases investigated trafficking cases, and the Office of the  Prosecutor General's (OPG) Department of Combating Crimes Against the  Person maintained several specialized prosecutors. Local police units  designated an officer as the main point of contact for trafficking  within their jurisdiction, but officers also investigated other  crimes, such as domestic violence and sex crimes. The IC and the OPG  continued to dismiss or reclassify trafficking cases referred by  local police because of a lack of evidence or a high reliance on  victim testimony without corroborating evidence. Additionally, GRETA  reported high turnover among law enforcement created obstacles in  maintaining specialized knowledge. The Educational Complex of MOIA  and Justice Academy maintained classes on trafficking for police,  prosecutors, and investigators. The Ministry of Defense trained  military police officers on anti-trafficking issues. The government  did not report information on international cooperation with foreign  law enforcement authorities.

Protection: The government increased protection efforts. The  government identified 25 victims, compared with six victims in 2022.  Of the 25 victims identified, traffickers exploited seven in sex  trafficking and 18 in labor trafficking; 10 were women, nine were  men, three were girls, and three were boys; three were persons with  disabilities; and all were Armenian. The 2014 Law on Identification  and Assistance to Victims of Human Trafficking and Exploitation  prescribed identification, referral, and assistance procedures for  relevant actors. Police reported inspecting businesses involved in  commercial sex, using checklists to screen individuals in commercial  sex, and training officers on trafficking indicators; the government  did not report the number of inspections. MOLSA published a guide for  social workers to identify victims, including screening indicators  when working with vulnerable populations, and also developed leaflets  in three languages to help inform victims on available state  resources. The Migration and Citizenship Service of MOIA continued  implement screening procedures to identify victims in migration  flows.  Experts continued to report officials did not proactively  identify victims and instead relied on victims to self-identify.  First responders did not consistently screen vulnerable populations  for trafficking indicators, particularly individuals in commercial  sex and foreign migrant workers. Additionally, the July 2022 criminal  procedural amendments decreased the police's involvement in  investigations, contributing to the lack of proactive efforts to  identify victims. The government trained victim service providers on  victim identification and referral and government services available  to victims.  The government provided temporary shelter, emergency  medical services, and psychological aid to potential trafficking  victims during the "pre-identification stage," a stage where the  government collected information on a potential victim within a  maximum of 10 days. The VIC, which consisted of representatives from  MOLSA, OPG, police, and NGOs, officially recognized victims based on  information collected during the "pre-identification stage;" the VIC  met eight times (three in 2022). The government issued a circular  with standardized indicators in October 2022 for the VIC to assess  potential victims. Experts reported establishing standardized  indicators was a positive step, but the government did not consult  VIC civil society members in the process, which resulted in some  unrealistic indicators. In 2022, the government also amended  procedures to allow all governmental organizations and NGOs to refer  potential victims to the VIC. Civil society reported the referral  procedures functioned well in 2023, and they had positive cooperation  with the government.

The government allocated approximately 34.7 million drams ($86,750)  for victim protection efforts, including operation costs for an  NGO-run shelter, compared with approximately 28 million drams  ($70,000) in 2022. In 2022, the government issued a decree that  provided minimum standards for victim assistance but did not solicit  input from civil society on many of the standards. Experts reported  the standards were reasonable, but some were not always applicable to  trafficking victims. For example, minimum standards required a  mandatory medical evaluation for victims upon arrival at the shelter,  but some victims would not be ready to undergo such examinations. The  government and local NGOs jointly provided legal, medical, and  psycho-social support; housing; a one-time monetary compensation of  250,000 drams ($625); and access to social, educational, and  employment projects. The government allowed legal guardians of child  victims to receive the one-time monetary compensation. The government  maintained a cooperation agreement and fully funded one specialized  NGO-run shelter to provide services to victims. The government and  the partner NGO provided support to 23 victims, including  accommodation for 10 victims, psycho-social support for 13 victims,  food and clothes for 12 victims, and the one-time monetary  compensation for seven victims. The NGO-run shelter allowed victims  to leave the shelter at will but required victims to notify staff  when they left shelter unescorted. In addition, the NGO-run shelter  provided male victims with separate rooms or rented apartments. In  2023, three male victims stayed at the shelter. The government  provided assistance in job placement and vocational training classes  for victims. In addition, the government did not include trafficking  victims in the list of vulnerable people eligible for state housing.  The NGO-run shelter and childcare institutions had the capacity to  accommodate child victims.  The government provided foreign victims  the same services as Armenian victims, and the law entitled foreign  victims to a 30- day reflection period in which victims could recover  before deciding whether to participate in criminal justice  proceedings. The law also entitled foreign victims to receive a  permanent residence permit.

According to experts, law enforcement officers in some remote areas  may have lacked information and training to inform victims of their  rights to protection or assistance. Observers continued to report  investigations did not incorporate gender- sensitive approaches, such  as the use of female medical professionals for forensics examinations  with female victims.  Guidelines restricted interviews to four hours  for adults and restricted interviews for children to 90 minutes in  the presence of a psychologist. Observers reported victims hesitated  to participate in criminal justice proceedings due to an absence of  confidentiality in public testimonies, creating a fear of retaliation  from traffickers and stigmatization from their families and  communities. Authorities lacked victim-centered approaches during  court proceedings, and victims, including children, appeared in front  of the traffickers in court, which may have caused re-traumatization.  The government continued to lack a formal victim-witness assistance  program. The Criminal Procedure Code and a 2016 decree mandated some  victim-witness assistance measures, but none were used in 2023.  Prosecutors did not request restitution in criminal proceedings and  recommended victims file civil suits for compensation; one victim  filed a civil suit for compensation. In previous years, judges did  not issue compensation in civil suits, asserting victims did not  substantiate the financial damages they had suffered. The law allowed  investigators to place defendants' property in custody to fund  potential civil claims, but this rarely occurred in practice.

Preventetion: The government slightly increased prevention efforts.  The Anti-trafficking Ministerial Council and the Inter- Agency  Working Group against Trafficking in Persons (IWGTP) monitored and  carried out anti-trafficking efforts; the Ministerial Council did not  meet (once in 2022), and IWGTP held two meetings (six in 2022). In  January 2023, the government drafted and adopted the 2023-2025 NAP  and allocated 37 million drams ($92,500) for its implementation,  compared with 40 million drams ($100,000) for the previous NAP.  However, observers reported many of the goals and projects in the NAP  depended on funding from donors and international organizations,  which the government did not secure. The government allocated 600,000  drams ($1,500) for prevention efforts, compared with 450,000 drams  ($1,125) in 2022. The government organized an awareness campaign  targeting the public, and MOLSA sought input from survivors on the  gaps of victim services to strengthen victim protection efforts. The  government funded a website to make information on trafficking trends  available to the public and hosted an annual awards ceremony for  journalists publishing trafficking stories. The government did not  regulate or monitor labor recruitment agencies or prohibit  worker-paid recruitment fees. The Health and Labor Inspection Body  conducted labor inspections but did not have jurisdiction to conduct  inspections of "non-legal" employers, such as small farms or illegal  businesses. MOLSA maintained a 24-hour hotline for social services,  including trafficking victim services, and the government funded an  NGO-run hotline for trafficking and sexual abuse; neither hotline  reported receiving any trafficking-related calls. The government did  not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.   Traffiking pofile: As reported over the past five years, human  traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Armenia, and  traffickers exploit victims from Armenia abroad. Traffickers exploit  some Armenian migrants who seek employment in Russia often through  recruitment fraud and recruitment fee-related debt bondage by labor  brokers. Traffickers exploit Armenian women in sex and labor  trafficking, including forced begging, within the country.  Traffickers target Iranian and Indian migrants who willingly seek  employment in the informal sector for exploitation in forced labor  and force children to beg or sell items on the street, such as  tissues. Some children work in agriculture, construction, and service  provision within the country, where they are vulnerable to labor  trafficking. Men in rural areas with little education, children  staying in state childcare institutions, and persons with  disabilities remain highly vulnerable to labor trafficking.  Traffickers increasingly used social media to recruit victims. The  more than 100,000 displaced persons and refugees from Nagorno  Karabakh experiencing unemployment are vulnerable to trafficking.  

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