Wednesday, February 19, 2003
Bill makes human trafficking a crime
MOSCOW With an eye on ratifying a UN convention combating organized crime, the State Duma has drawn up legislation that for the first time outlaws human trafficking and slavery.
The bill, which was approved by the Duma's legislation committee Monday and will go up for a vote this spring, seeks to crack down on a problem that human rights activists say has reached epidemic proportions over the past decade.
Hundreds of thousands of people are forced into prostitution both in Russia and abroad each year, while slavery has become commonplace in the North Caucasus.
The Russian sex trafficking industry is worth $7 billion per year, said Marianna Solomatova, the Moscow director of Angel Coalition, a nongovernmental organization that fights human trafficking and helped draft the Duma bill.
"Trafficking in drugs and weapons is punishable by law, while human trafficking has remained a relatively safe business," she said.
Yelena Mizulina, the deputy head of the Duma's legislation committee, said it was time that something be done.
"This is a very serious problem for Russia, which has became an active supplier of slaves to customers here and in foreign countries," she said in an interview Tuesday. "Slaves are used on farms and they are forced to work as prostitutes. Women are forced to bear babies for childless couples."
Her committee hammered out the human trafficking legislation with the Interior, Labor and Justice ministries, the Prosecutor General's Office and nongovernmental organizations in a sign that the government is taking the issue seriously.
The bill provides Russia's first legal definition for slavery and human trafficking and pursues three main objectives, said Mizulina, who oversaw the drafting of the legislation.
These are to educate the public about human trafficking and slavery; oblige the government to protect and rehabilitate victims; and give law enforcement a legal basis to fight human trafficking and slavery, which should in turn discourage the practices.
Mizulina said the part of the bill involving a victim's right to be protected and rehabilitated was especially significant.
"These people are now considered criminals. Under Russian law, they are accomplices in a crime that was actually committed against them," she said.
The bill adds seven new crimes to the Criminal Code, including human trafficking, recruiting people for sexual exploitation and using slave labor.
Penalties outlined in the bill closely adhere to those used in the West, said a senior official in the Interior Ministry.
For example, a person convicted of trafficking another person within Russia faces up to six years in prison. A person convicted of belonging to a human trafficking ring or of trafficking with another country faces up to 10 years in prison.
"Slavery and forced prostitution have become systemic across Russia and account for hundreds of thousands of cases," the Interior Ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Russia is going to ratify the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime. To do this the government must comply with the demands of the convention, which include anti-trafficking laws."
He said existing laws that can be used against traffickers do not have enough bite. Those laws cover border violations, kidnapping, rape, fraud, organized crime and pornography.
There are no official statistics on human trafficking or slavery because they are not considered a crime. Under the law, only those who use minors can be punished, with prison terms of up to 10 years. Sixty-four such cases were opened in 2000 and 2001, according to the police.
The Angel Coalition estimates that as many as 50,000 Russian women are forced into sex slavery abroad each year.
Mizulina said human trafficking is closely tied with migration.
In Moscow, a haven for migrants from all over the former Soviet Union, migrants reportedly are being forced to build out-of-town mansions for the newly rich, and women are being lured from the regions with promises of steady jobs but then forced into prostitution.
The North Caucasus is notorious for human trafficking, where the kidnapping of people for ransom is a lucrative business for local gangsters, Chechen rebels and, in some cases, federal troops.
The proposed legislation calls for the creation of a countrywide network of protection and rehabilitation centers for victims. Part of their expenses are supposed to be covered by assets seized from convicted traffickers.
"Protection of the victims will be the most difficult task in implementing the anti-trafficking legislation," the Interior Ministry official said. "The creation of these centers will demand a considerable amount of money from the federal budget."
In fighting human trafficking, Russia lags behind most of the other former Soviet republics. Estonia, Ukraine, Belarus and the countries of Central Asia already have laws against trafficking.
Last June, the United States put Russia on a blacklist of countries facing sanctions for not doing enough to crack down on human trafficking and slavery. In the U.S. State Department's 2002 Trafficking in Persons Report, Russia was ranked with 18 other countries in the worst category of 89 countries surveyed.
Countries in this category risk losing nonhumanitarian aid from the United States.The report played an important role in getting the government to tackle the human-trafficking legislation, the Angel Coalition said.
© The Moscow Times, 2003. Distributed in partnership with Globalvision News Network (www.gvnews.net). All rights reserved.
Created: April 13, 2003
Last modified: April 13, 2003
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