Council of Europe welcomes important steps taken by Belarus to fight human trafficking

Strasbourg, 3 July 2017

Council of Europe welcomes important steps taken by Belarus to fight human trafficking, urges further changes in legislation and practice

The Belarusian authorities have taken important steps to develop the legal, policy and institutional framework to prevent and combat trafficking in human beings, but a number of challenges remain to be addressed, according to the first evaluation report published today by the Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA).

According to official statistics, 184 victims of trafficking were identified in 2016. The great majority of the identified victims are women and girls trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation, mostly in the Russian Federation or Turkey, as well as within Belarus. There are also reports about trafficking of Belarusian men and women for the purpose of labour exploitation, but no official data to support these reports.

GRETA welcomes the adoption of relevant legislation and regulations, the setting up of the International Training Centre on Migration and Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, and Belarus’ international efforts to combat human trafficking. It commends the authorities on measures taken to raise public awareness and to target specific groups, in particular young people and persons travelling to work abroad, in co-operation with civil society and international organisations. However, GRETA stresses that the Belarusian authorities should ensure regular exchange of information between all relevant public bodies and increase the involvement of specialised civil society organisations in the planning, drafting, implementation and evaluation of national anti-trafficking policies. Further, the authorities should strengthen prevention through social and economic empowerment measures for groups vulnerable to human trafficking and through discouraging demand for the services of trafficked persons.

Furthermore, GRETA urges the Belarusian authorities to ensure that the identification of victims of trafficking is independent from the criminal investigation, and to introduce a procedure for the identification of child victims of trafficking, taking into account their special needs. GRETA also requests the authorities to specifically define in law the recovery and reflection period and to ensure that possible victims of trafficking have effective access to it. GRETA also urges the authorities to conduct the return of victims of trafficking with due regard for their rights, safety and dignity.

As only a few victims of trafficking have received compensation from the perpetrators, GRETA urges the authorities to set up a State compensation scheme accessible to victims of trafficking and to systematically inform them about the right to seek compensation, as well as to ensure their effective access to legal aid.

GRETA also asks the authorities to take further measures to ensure that human trafficking offences are prosecuted as such and lead to effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions, while making full use of the available measures to protect victims of trafficking, including children. Moreover, GRETA urges the authorities to take additional measures to ensure compliance with the principle of non-punishment of victims of trafficking for their involvement in unlawful activities, to the extent that they were compelled to do so.

The report is the first assessment by GRETA of how Belarus implements the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Human Trafficking. Belarus is the first non-member state of the Council of Europe that has acceded to the Convention, which entered into force in respect of Belarus on 1 March 2014.