Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page


Seeking better lives, women and girls migrate from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, many believing that agents will transport them to Western European countries for legitimate employment. But the agents are often traffickers who transport the women and girls to countries where they can sell them to owners of bars or clubs. Since the end of the war in 1995, Bosnia and Herzegovina has become a major trafficking destination.5 While trafficked women and girls there have reported that approximately 70 percent of their clients were local citizens, with internationals making up the remaining 30 percent,6 local NGOs believe that the presence of thousands of expatriate civilians and soldiers has been a significant motivating factor for traffickers to Bosnia and Herzegovina.7

Once sold, the women and girls are told by their "owners" that they owe their purchase price as a "debt," or else traffickers and "owners" tell them that they owe their travel costs and have to work for free until clearing the transport "debt." A survey in late 2001 found that in Bosnia and Herzegovina trafficked women and girls, largely from Moldova, Romania, and Ukraine, were forced to work until they had paid off debts ranging from 1,500 to 5,000 Deutschmarks (€769 to €2,564/U.S.$694 to U.S.$2,315),8 and could be sold from "employer" to "employer."9 Stripped of their passports, physically abused, and warned that escape is impossible, trafficked women and girls can only hope that after several months of providing sexual services to clients, "owners" will declare their debt paid and allow them to keep half of their earnings, as promised (in 2001, the average charge for sex was 100 Deutschmarks-€51/U.S.$46-per hour). Unfortunately, fair accounting by "owners" is rare. Instead, many trafficked women and girls face mounting fines for minor infractions of house rules, fees for housing, clothing, and food, and sale from one "owner" to another without warning. All these factors increase the debt.

An official UNMIBH background paper on anti-trafficking efforts set the number of trafficked women and girls in Bosnia and Herzegovina at approximately 1,000.10 Lara, one of the leading Bosnian nongovernmental organizations working to combat trafficking and a member of the NGO "RING" Network,11 while expressing skepticism about trafficking statistics generally, indicated that some estimates range as high as 2,000 trafficked women and girls.12

The backgrounds of trafficking victims vary widely. According to IOM staff members, the women and girls trafficked from Moldova were often younger and less educated than those from other countries. The Ukrainian women, usually two to three years older, boasted more years of formal schooling.13 All of the women and girls in the thirty-six cases reviewed by Human Rights Watch, however, maintained that they had fled poverty, unemployment, or dismal wages at home. Hoping to earn enough money abroad to support their families, the trafficked women and girls found, however, that debt to their "owners" made posting earnings home to parents and children impossible.

Human Rights Watch investigators first learned of trafficking of women and girls to Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1998, while on a research mission to investigate post-conflict discrimination against Bosnian women.14 In 1999 Human Rights Watch returned solely to investigate trafficking.15 At that time, trafficked women and girls arrested in brothel raids faced prosecution in local courts for prostitution and document fraud, as well as fines and imprisonment. After serving their sentences, they were often expelled by police across the inter-entity boundary line (IEBL) separating Republika Srpska and Federation territory.16 Traffickers occasionally found the women after their expulsion and sold them back into forced prostitution.17

In March 2001, Human Rights Watch investigators returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina for the second phase of the research, finding the situation much changed.18 In the intervening two years, UNMIBH had taken steps to provide assistance to victims of trafficking, to end impunity for traffickers, and to investigate allegations of complicity on the part of local police, the IPTF, and other international personnel. By October 2002, IOM had assisted 601 trafficked migrants, with an additional nine trafficked migrants awaiting repatriation.19 IOM's program, funded by the U.S. and Swedish governments as well as private foundations, provided shelter, assistance with obtaining travel documents, medical care, transportation to their home countries, and some minimal reintegration assistance.20

Unfortunately, despite these steps, the trafficking of women and girls for forced prostitution has continued unabated. The Bosnian government has taken almost no concrete steps to protect trafficking victims or to end impunity for trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Government prosecutors have only reluctantly pressed charges against traffickers-and then only for the most minimal violations. In all, since 1999 the Bosnian government has conducted only a handful of successful prosecutions of trafficking cases. Most cases that have gone to court have been prosecuted as mediation in prostitution, not trafficking, cases.21 And even in those cases that ended in convictions, only a small fraction of the perpetrators served any time in prison. As Celhia de Lavarene, director of the STOP unit, told Human Rights Watch, "Convictions don't mean much. Even convicted, no one goes to jail."22

Yet while only sporadically prosecuting traffickers, the Bosnian government still occasionally prosecuted trafficking victims for document fraud, prostitution, and illegal migration status offenses in 2001.23 The Bosnian government largely ignored corruption among police and local authorities, only rarely investigating, disciplining, or prosecuting officials for involvement in trafficking. In a recent Department of State report on trafficking, the U.S. government ranked Bosnia in the bottom tier of countries worldwide for failing to take even minimal steps toward the elimination of trafficking.24

UNMIBH has not succeeded in motivating governments to prosecute the perpetrators of trafficking, either in Bosnia and Herzegovina or (where applicable) in their home countries. Also, gains made to protect victims were partly negated until late 2001 by UNMIBH's use of a definition of trafficking that contravened international law by excluding a large number of trafficking victims from support and services, albeit that it now appears UNMIBH's STOP units have started using the appropriate definition.25 In addition, IOM has intervened to correct mistakes by IPTF and UNMIBH personnel making decisions on trafficking status.26

The International Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina
On December 14, 1995, the parties to the Bosnian conflict signed the Dayton Peace Agreement in Paris, ending four years of brutal conflict.27 The agreement proposed the creation of a U.N. police monitoring unit and paved the way for an influx of international peacekeepers, international police, and civilian contractors.28 The structure set out in the agreement for SFOR, a NATO-led force comprising over 20,000 troops from all NATO member states29 as well as several non-NATO states,30 included military, civilian, and contract personnel.31

The International Police Task Force (IPTF), created under Annex 11 of the Dayton Peace Agreement, was made responsible for monitoring and advising local Bosnian police.32 The IPTF force of approximately 1,411 monitors, comprised of police officers from nearly fifty U.N. member states, worked under the auspices of UNMIBH.33 In December 1996, Security Council Resolution 1088 expanded the IPTF mandate to include investigating or assisting with investigations into human rights abuses by law enforcement personnel.34

Within Bosnia and Herzegovina, IPTF monitors cannot be arrested or detained and have absolute immunity from criminal prosecution. Without a waiver of immunity from the U.N. secretary-general, IPTF monitors can never face charges in Bosnian courts for crimes they may have committed. Under Appendix B to Annex 1A of the Dayton Agreement, NATO military personnel are under the exclusive jurisdiction of their respective nations.35 SFOR civilian personnel, although in principle possessing only "functional" immunity from prosecution (immunity only for acts related to their official duties), have been effectively extended full immunity by the Bosnian government.

The consequences of the immunity enjoyed by members of the international community are described below.

5 Human Rights Watch relies on the definition of "trafficking" supplied in article 3 of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (Trafficking Protocol). See Chapter V, International and Domestic Legal Protections Against Trafficking.

6 Dr. Lynellyn Long, chief of mission, International Organization for Migration, public statement on trafficking into Bosnia and Herzegovina, Washington, D.C., December 10, 2001, on file with Human Rights Watch.

7 A report published by the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF), the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) noted that international clients pay higher rates and spend more money in the bars than local men. The report estimated that the international clientele accounts for 70 percent of all profits from prostitution. UNICEF, UNOHCHR, OSCE/ODIHR, "Trafficking in Human Beings in Southeastern Europe," June 2002, p. 65.

8 Throughout this report the exchange rates used are 1.95 Deutschmarks to the Euro, and 2.16 Deutschmarks to the U.S. dollar, the rates as of October 21, 2001. The Deutschmark officially ceased to exist, replaced by the Euro, as of January 1, 2002.

9 Lara, "Trafficking of Women as Organized Crime," report prepared for the Lara trafficking conference held in Bijeljina, Republika Srpska, September 28-29, 2001, on file with Human Rights Watch.

10 United Nations Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina, "Background Paper on Efforts Against Human Trafficking," submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives International Relations Committee, April 23, 2002. The International Organization for Migration office in Sarajevo estimated that at any given time there are between 600 and 3,000 trafficked women in Bosnia and Herzegovina. See IOM, "Victims of Trafficking in the Balkans," 2001, p. 43.

11 In Bosnia and Herzegovina, ten nongovernmental organizations created an alliance of NGOs working on trafficking called the RING Network in 1999. The alliance includes Lara in Bijeljina, Udruzene Zene [United Women Association] in Banja Luka, Buducnost [Future] in Modrica, Zena BiH [Woman of Bosnia and Herzegovina] in Mostar, Medica in Zenica, Zene Zenama [Women to Women] in Sarajevo, Most [The Bridge] in Visegrad, La Bella Dona in Srpsko Sarajevo, Liga Zena Glasaca [League of Women Voters] in Sarajevo, and Zene sa Une [Women from Una] in Bihac. LaStrada (Mostar) later joined the network.

12 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, Mara Radovanovic, director, Lara, Bijeljina, December 13, 2001.

13 Human Rights Watch interview, Amela Efendic, IOM program officer, Sarajevo, March 26, 2001.

14 At that time, Human Rights Watch researchers met with U.S. soldiers based as Joint Commission Observers (JCO) with U.S. SFOR in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The four soldiers and one civilian interpreter told us about six brothels in the Bijeljina region filled with foreign women, most from Ukraine. One JCO soldier told Human Rights Watch that he had invited several of the women back to the JCO residence for a party, but that they could not attend as their passports had been taken and they were held by the brothel owner as "slaves." Human Rights Watch interview, JCO soldier A. [name withheld], Bijeljina, February 4, 1998.

15 Researchers traveled extensively throughout the Federation and Republika Srpska_visiting Bijeljina, Doboj, Banja Luka, Livno, Sarajevo, Tuzla, Zenica, Orasje, Brcko, and Mostar_and found nightclubs/bars employing trafficked women scattered throughout both entities.

16 Attorneys in Zenica told Human Rights Watch of several cases in which a brothel was raided, the women prosecuted, fined, and then deported across the IEBL. Human Rights Watch interview with Jasminka Dzumuhur, director, Zenica Center for Legal Assistance, Zenica, March 17, 1999.

17 Human Rights Watch interview with Jasminka Dzumuhur, director, Zenica Center for Legal Assistance, Zenica, March 17, 1999.

18 Researchers investigated trafficking cases and met with NGO and international experts in Sarajevo, Mostar, Prijedor, Banja Luka, Bijeljina, Doboj, Gorazde, Tuzla, and Brcko. In addition, researchers interviewed judges, local police, prosecutors, and two nightclub owners/managers.

19 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, Amela Efendic, IOM program officer, Sarajevo, October 21, 2002. Of the total 601 women and girls, 498 were repatriated to their home countries. The remaining 103 declined assistance after spending one night in a safehouse. As of October 21, 2002, minors between the ages of 13 and 18 accounted for approximately 10 percent of the total (sixty).

20 Human Rights Watch interview, Amela Efendic, IOM program officer, Sarajevo, March 26, 2001. The women received U.S.$150 as a "reinstallation grant," paid upon return to the country of origin. IOM officials reported that extremely small additional repatriation funds existed in Moldova and Ukraine.

21 According to a STOP report, a total of ninety-one bar owners and traffickers were convicted and sentenced as of October 12, 2002. The statistics hid the fact that all but a handful of these cases were for "mediation in prostitution," not for trafficking, and that the perpetrators rarely faced any punishment. According to Alun Roberts, UNMIBH spokesman, of the fifty-six persons sentenced for trafficking-related offenses as of July 25, 2002, only eleven served jail time. Human Rights Watch telephone interview, Alun Roberts, UNMIBH spokesman, Banja Luka, October 29, 2002. An internal U.N. memorandum on prosecution of trafficking cases noted that there were no prosecutions in 1999, three successful prosecutions in 2000, and six successful prosecutions in 2001 with four additional cases pending (as of December 14, 2001). U.N. Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina, "Prosecution of Trafficking Cases," Sarajevo, December 14, 2001, on file with Human Rights Watch. Prosecutions increased after December 2001, but most for minor crimes such as "mediation in prostitution." Human Rights Watch telephone interview, Madeleine Rees, head of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sarajevo, October 21, 2002.

22 E-mail correspondence with Celhia de Lavarene, director of STOP, October 22, 2002, on file with Human Rights Watch.

23 According to Madeleine Rees, head of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the number of these prosecutions has decreased markedly since September 2001. Human Rights Watch telephone interview, Madeleine Rees, head of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sarajevo, December 19, 2001.

24 U.S. Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report, released June 2002, at (retrieved August 8, 2002). This annual report on trafficking worldwide is required by the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, U.S. legislation passed in October 2000.

25 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, Madeleine Rees, Sarajevo, December 19, 2001. According to Rees, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has provided some of the training for the STOP teams and "made this [the definition] quite clear. We've told them that it [prostitution] is irrelevant."

26 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, IOM program officer [name withheld], Sarajevo, December 4, 2001.

27 The General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, at (retrieved July 31, 2001). For an analysis of the Dayton Framework Agreement, see Helsinki Watch (now Human Rights Watch), "Bosnia-Hercegovina: A Failure in the Making - Human Rights and the Dayton Agreement," A Human Rights Watch Report, Vol. 8, No. 8 (D), June 1996.

28 Among the institutions implementing various aspects of the Dayton Peace Agreement are the Office of the High Representative (OHR), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the U.N. International Police Task Force (IPTF), and the Stabilization Force (SFOR). In 1996, Security Council Resolution 1088 authorized SFOR to implement the military aspects of the Dayton Peace Agreement.

29 Since it has no standing army, Iceland has contributed medical personnel. See History of the NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina, SFOR Informer Online, at (retrieved February 22, 2002).

30 Ibid. Non-NATO forces have been incorporated on the same basis as NATO forces. Non-NATO forces receive orders from the SFOR commander and work from multinational divisional headquarters. Fifteen non-NATO states currently serve with SFOR in Bosnia.

31 The U.S. contingent to SFOR is administered by the Department of Defense.

32 See General Framework for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Annex 11. For an analysis of the IPTF's mandate, see Human Rights Watch, "Beyond Restraint: Politics and the Policing Agenda of the U.N. International Police Task Force," A Human Rights Watch Report, Vol. 10, No. 5 (D), June 1998. On February 28, 2002, the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) Steering Board accepted the offer of the European Union to provide an E.U. police mission from January 1, 2003 to follow the end of UNMIBH's mandate. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1396, S/Res/1396 (2002), March 5, 2002, paragraph 3.

33 As of October 10, 2002, at (retrieved October 31, 2002). See U.N. Security Council, "Report of the Secretary-General on the U.N. Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina," November 29, 2001, S/2001/1132, at The number of IPTF personnel was based on a simple mathematical formula, one monitor for thirty local police. In the fall of 2001, the authorized number of IPTF was 2,057, far higher than the number deployed. See Michael J. Dziedzic and Andrew Bair, "Bosnia and the International Police Task Force," Institute for National Strategic Studies, at (retrieved July 13, 2001). Member states often send officers from their national police forces to meet their obligation for staffing the IPTF. The United States has no national police force and has contracted with DynCorp Aerospace, Inc., a U.S. contractor providing technology and logistical services to the public and private sectors, to recruit monitors from state and local police departments. See (retrieved April 4, 2002). On January 1, 2003, the European Union will take over the policing mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The European Union Police Mission (EUPM), established by a decision of the Council of the European Union on March 11, 2002, will be made up of approximately 470 police officers and seventy civilians. Press release, General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union, May 7, 2002, at (retrieved October 21, 2002).

34 S. C. Res. 1088, U.N. SCOR, 3723rd Meeting, U.N. Doc.S/RES/1088 (1996).

35 General Framework for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, "Agreement between the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and NATO concerning the Status of NATO and its Personnel," Appendix B to Annex I-A, sec.7. Under Article VI, paragraph 11 of Annex I-A, all IFOR (now SFOR) personnel retain the privileges and immunities set forth in Appendix B.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page