Romania, still on the U.S. watch list on human trafficking

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Romania still tops the U.S. human trafficking watch list. The U.S. State Department’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report on Romania says that “he Government of Romania does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.”

These efforts included identifying significantly more trafficking victims, participating in twice as many international investigations, and conducting more awareness campaigns. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. Authorities investigated, prosecuted, and convicted fewer traffickers. Alleged complicity in trafficking crimes persisted without punishment, particularly with officials exploiting minors while in the care of government-run homes or placement centers. Authorities did not adequately screen for trafficking indicators or identify victims among vulnerable populations, such as asylumseekers, individuals in commercial sex, or children in governmentrun institutions. Services for child trafficking victims remained inadequate. Moreover, a lack of sufficient government funding for assistance and protection services endured, leaving most victims without services, susceptible to re-traumatization, and at risk of re-trafficking. Therefore Romania remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year“, reads the 2020 Report.

 

In a statement today at the HQs of the Romanian Interior Ministry, the U.S. Ambassador to Romania, Adrian Zuckerman has called on the Parliament to immediately start working with the Government to pass the needed laws to catch the human traffickers.

“Unfortunately, Romania was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List for the second year in a row, which means that the Government has not increased its efforts enough to counter the human trafficking. Last year, the under the former government, the efforts to counter the human trafficking have been reduced (…) The criminal gangs have blatantly trafficked humans, knowing that they will probably get unpunished, as it happened in the past,” ambassador Zuckerman stated.

I call on the Parliament leadership. Start immediately working with the Government to adopt the necessary legislation to catch the criminals and to recover the losses caused by the former government and which helped the criminals. Now it’ time the Parliament takes a stand“, the American diplomat added.

 

“Widespread complicity and the failure to incriminate officials hampered effective law enforcement. While the government did not collect data on complicit officials, NGOs, journalists, and human rights activists reported alleged complicity in trafficking crimes by government officials, particularly with officials exploiting minors and acting as accomplices to traffickers. In May 2019, DIICOT indicted the former police chief of a southeastern Romanian town for allegedly protecting a trafficking network while leading the local police inspectorate. The media reported a transnational trafficking network used bribes and pressure to induce the police into hiring an officer to serve in the General Police Inspectorate. The media also mentioned traffickers negotiated other jobs and transfers within the police force and offered the police information about rival criminal groups in order to eliminate their competitors. Additionally, several NGOs expressed suspicion that staff working in placement centers for minors and residential centers for persons with disabilities facilitated trafficking in persons. Nonetheless, the government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses,” reads the U.S. 2020 Report.

The US Department of state warned that the the government decreased law enforcement efforts. “Articles 210 and 211 of the penal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of three to 10 years’ imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. As in previous years, government data did not differentiate between cases exclusively related to trafficking or cases related to other crimes, such as pandering. The Organized Crime and Terrorism Investigation Directorate (DIICOT) and the Department for Combating Organized Crime (DCCO) were responsible for investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases. Authorities opened 532 new trafficking cases in 2019, a decrease from 695 in 2018 and 675 in 2017. Prosecutors indicted 347 alleged traffickers, compared with 399 in 2018 and 362 in 2017. Courts convicted 120 traffickers in 2019, continuing a multi-year decline from 130 in 2018 and 222 in 2017. Although 37 convicted traffickers received suspended sentences, and three postponed prison sentences, the remaining 80 traffickers received sentences from one to more than 10 years’ imprisonment.”

The report also mentions the high sounding Tandarei human trafficking case, which was closed in December last year by the Romanian court, with all the defendants being acquitted.

“During the reporting period, a court acquitted 25 alleged traffickers in the notorious “Tandarei” child trafficking case, in which the court tried the alleged traffickers under a law that provided lesser penalties and a shorter statute of limitations. The case resulted from a 2009-2010 joint investigation with the United Kingdom (UK) into a Romanian trafficking network, which Europol considered one of the biggest in Europe; the traffickers recruited hundreds of children from poor Roma communities in the southern part of the country and exploited them in the UK in forced begging or forced theft. In 2019, DIICOT and DCCO participated in 80 joint investigative teams with European counterparts, a significant increase from 36 in 2018 and 44 in 2017. In July 2019, Romanian and German authorities partnered in an investigation that resulted in the arrest of four Romanian men for exploiting minors, including their own children, in commercial sex. Romanian authorities also participated in a pan-European case led by Europol involving child trafficking, which resulted in 34 arrests.”

The 2019 report, same warnings

The previous 2019 report also called on the Romanian authorities to increase efforts ” to indict more suspected traffickers and to adopt a five-year national strategy and national action plan”.

Courts convicted significantly fewer traffickers and officials identified considerably fewer victims, continuing a multi-year decline in such efforts. Endemic corruption and alleged complicity in trafficking crimes persisted without punishment, particularly with officials exploiting minors while in the care of government-managed placement centers. Judges continued to lack specialized training on working with trafficking cases and victims, which had detrimental effects on witness protection, restitution for victims, and sentencing for perpetrators. Moreover, lack of sufficient government funding for assistance and protection services remained problematic, leaving most victims without services, susceptible to re-traumatization, and vulnerable to re-trafficking. Therefore Romania was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List,” read the 2019 report.

The report last year also mentioned that “human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Romania, and traffickers exploit victims from Romania abroad. Romania remains a primary source country for sex trafficking and labor trafficking victims in Europe. Traffickers subject Romanian men, women, and children to labor trafficking in agriculture, construction, hotels, manufacturing, and domestic service, as well as forced begging and theft in Romania and other European countries. Traffickers subject Romanian women and children to sex trafficking in Romania and other European countries. Experts report a rise in Romanian women recruited for sham marriages in Western Europe; after entering these marriages, traffickers force the women into prostitution or labor.”

According to the U.S. State Department, “minors represent nearly 50 percent of identified trafficking victims in Romania. Traffickers subjected some children to trafficking while in the care of the state, particularly in small towns. Romani children, as young as 11 years old, are particularly vulnerable to forced begging and sex trafficking. Romania is a destination country for a limited number of foreign trafficking victims, including trafficking victims from Vietnam and the Philippines. Traffickers subject Romanians living in government run institutions for the mentally disabled to forced labor.”

 

Interior minister Vela: The ministry is doing its best to avoid a third negative report

In his turn, Interior minister Marcel Vela has said that the ministry had constantly acted for a positive assessment this year” and to avoid a negative report for a third year in a row.

“This year, authorities have showed a constant concern to prevent and counter human trafficking. Although the pandemic has been the main concern, the ministry has done its best (...)”, Vela said.

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