Traffickers who have forced thousands of women and girls into prostitution in Bosnia and Herzegovina are not being apprehended for their crimes, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today.
Local corruption and the complicity of international officials in Bosnia have allowed a trafficking network to flourish, in which women are tricked, threatened, physically assaulted and sold as chattel, the report said.
The 75-page report, “Hopes Betrayed: Trafficking of Women and Girls to Post-Conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina for Forced Prostitution,” documents how local Bosnian police officers facilitate the trafficking by creating false documents; visiting brothels to partake of free sexual services; and sometimes engaging in trafficking directly.
Human Rights Watch also obtained documents from the United Nations Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (UNMIBH) that revealed cases of International Police Task Force (IPTF) officers visiting nightclubs as clients of trafficked women and girls, arranging to have trafficked women delivered to their residences, and in one case, tampering with witnesses to conceal an IPTF officer's complicity.
“Local and international police should be protecting these women, not participating in the abuses against them,” said LaShawn R. Jefferson, executive director of the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. “Trafficked women and girls face betrayal on all sides: by the agents who recruit them; by police duty-bound to protect them; and by individuals in the international community sworn to uphold the rule of law.”
Promised lucrative jobs in Western Europe, women and girls—mostly from Moldova, Romania and Ukraine—instead find themselves trapped in debt bondage and forced prostitution. Human Rights Watch's three-year investigation found extensive trafficking into the country, with estimates hovering at 2,000 victims. Many women and girls are sold for prices ranging from U.S.$694 to U.S.$2,315 (€769 to €2,564).
Local officials often fail to investigate and arrest traffickers, while blaming the victims for their reluctance to testify. Meanwhile, international police officers patronize the clubs where trafficked women perform, sending a strong message to trafficking victims that they cannot trust the authorities to help them escape their “owners.”
Human Rights Watch also found evidence that at least three IPTF monitors purchased women and their passports from traffickers and nightclub owners. These monitors did not face criminal investigation or prosecution in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but were merely repatriated. UNMIBH admitted in April 2002 that 18 IPTF officers have been repatriated for “sexual misconduct” over the life of the mission.
“Individual international police officers have purchased human beings and received slaps on the wrist,” said Jefferson. “Repatriation is not an adequate consequence for these acts.”
Human Rights Watch urged the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina to provide witness protection and services to trafficking victims, to arrest and prosecute traffickers, and to crack down on corruption.
Human Rights Watch also pressed the European Union to make anti-trafficking a priority when it takes over the policing mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina in January 2003.
Excerpts from testimonies:
Human Rights Watch investigators interviewed women during a brothel raid in March 1999. One woman in her mid-twenties, A.A., from Ukraine, told Human Rights Watch:
When I came to work here, they tricked me on the way. They told us that we would dance. They did a three-month visa for me. We had a visa and everything was fine at the first place. But when we wanted to leave, the owner sold us. They told me that I would be a dancer but then I had to be a prostitute. I have been here for over five months. At the first place, the owner…did not tell us that he had sold us. He just put us into a car. Then we came here and the owner here told us that we had been sold and that we had to work off our debt….We could not leave. He said that we had to work off three more months even after we worked off our debt. He said that he would sell us to another man. He said that we had to work until the 8th of March. After that we still had to work….[The owner] from the first place sold us for 1,500 Deutschmarks [€769/U.S.$694].
A twenty-two year old Ukrainian woman, B.B., had answered an advertisement for work abroad. She told investigators:
My father is looking for me – for two months I have not been able to call home. I have been in Bosnia for three months. I came to work here in a bar. I knew nothing when they took me to Serbia. I was sold there four times to different men. [The traffickers] brought me to a bar and told me that I had to work as a prostitute. I worked for two months in Republika Srpska, near Doboj…. I refused to work and they beat me…. I worked and they never paid me. Every time I refused to work, they beat me. Then [the owner] sold us to [someone else] and brought us here. [The first owner] said nothing about planning to sell us….[The owner] said that he would kill us. He was always trying to scare us. I have no money at all.