Today, November 17, the Coalition prEUgovor presented the latest Alarm – an independent semi-annual report on Serbia’s progress in terms of political criteria and policy implementation in the areas covered by Chapters 23 (Justice and Fundamental Rights) and 24 (Justice, Freedom, and Security) of the Accessions negotiations with the European Union.
The report’s findings indicate that there was no progress in most areas between May and October 2020. Due to the lack of the rule of law reforms, Serbia did not open any new negotiating chapters in 2020. Serbia still does not have a Head of the Negotiating Team, nor has the decision to accept the new accession methodology been officially confirmed. The adoption of the revised action plans for Chapters 23 and 24 in July and the formation of the Government of Serbia at the end of October should restart amending the Constitution and further reform efforts.
The reporting period was marked by general elections, dominated by a campaign whose main actor was Serbia’s president, and police brutality during protests against the epidemic’s official management. The fight against organized crime has been announced as one of the new government’s priorities, so it is the right time to see what has been done so far in this area. Problematic practices continue in the field of the fight against corruption. Worrying trends have been observed in the area of trafficking in human beings and the fight against violence against women, while the competent authorities’ response is unsatisfactory.
Speakers at the conference were:
- Jelena Pejić Nikić, Belgrade Center for Security Policy, report editor
- Zlata Đorđević, Transparency Serbia
- Tanja Ignjatović, Autonomous Women’s Center
- Jasmina Krunić, ASTRA – Anti-trafficking Action
- Bojan Elek, Belgrade Center for Security Policy
- Danica Vučenić, a journalist, moderated the discussion.
ASTRA representative Jasmina Krunić began her presentation by reviewing the current situation: 48 victims of human trafficking have been identified in Serbia since the beginning of the year. Out of that number, 23 children – 15 girls and 8 boys – are victims of sexual exploitation, forced marriages, forced begging … She reminded us that expert estimates indicate that the number of victims is at least ten times higher.
The next topic was about trends in human trafficking in the presence of the Covid-19 virus. This situation raised the question of whether the pandemic exposed the system’s shortcomings concerning the victims’ treatments. From May to September 2020, ASTRA’s Victim Support Team received twice as many calls as in the same period last year, while the number of field interventions doubled. In August 2020, usually a more relaxed period of the year, the SOS hotline recorded 640 calls, a staggering 126% more than in the same month last year.
The ASTRA representative pointed out that the fight against organized crime, which the state announced, makes us optimistic because human trafficking belongs to organized crime. But at the same time, it is surprising that the Action Plan for Chapter 24 hardly mentions the problem of human trafficking. It is incredible to what extent this criminal activity is officially invisible in Serbia, especially if we keep in mind that this illegal activity is the third in terms of the amount of income it generates (after the sale of narcotics and weapons).
In that sense, the good news is that the proposal of Europol’s mandate for the fourth quarter of 2020 announces the strengthening of operational police cooperation with non-EU countries.
In this reporting period, the State Department’s report on human trafficking for 2019 was also published – the TIP report, which repeated certain long-term recommendations sent to Serbia in its efforts to deal with human trafficking. This report highlighted the importance of cooperation with the civil sector and the need to formalize this cooperation.
It is also interesting that the TIP report mentions 166 cases of transnational trafficking in which the victims are Serbian citizens. These cases are not presented in the annual report of the Center for the Protection of Victims of Trafficking.
In addition to all the above, the representative of ASTRA, referring to the national strategic and legislative framework, stated that delays characterize this period, changes in plans, and some bright examples. There is currently no word on the Social Protection Strategy, and as for the Law on Social Protection, things seem to be returning to the beginning. A relatively positive example is the National Strategy for the Realization of the Rights of Victims and Witnesses of Crimes in the Republic of Serbia for 2019−2025 and the accompanying Action Plan for 2020−2022.
On this occasion, the representative of ASTRA also referred to the results of the Analysis of court proceedings related to the criminal offense of trafficking in human beings and related criminal offenses for 2019. ASTRA has been conducting this analysis for ten years, intending to review the fulfillment of the rights guaranteed to victims in court proceedings. Unfortunately, the main findings point out that respecting the rights of victims of trafficking and related crimes in court proceedings have not improved significantly compared to previous years. The court proceedings are still too long. Even when proceedings take less time, it is due to the conclusion of a plea agreement, which is always to the victims’ detriment. Victims’ privacy is not adequately protected, and perpetrators continue to receive sentences at the legal minimum, usually 3 to 5 years. The right to compensation in criminal proceedings remains unattainable for most victims of trafficking.
Besides, ASTRA’s representative noticed some new, not so ordinary forms of human trafficking in her presentation. For example, an adult woman victim of labor exploitation, an adult woman forced to commit crimes, an adult male victim of labor exploitation, and an adult male victim of sexual exploitation. ASTRA suggests that it would be useful if the Centre’s future reports include categorizing types of exploitation.
The presentation was supplemented by one not so optimistic piece of news. The only state shelter for victims of trafficking is closed due to lack of a license. Unofficial information was also given that the shelter will most likely not receive that license due to procedural problems with the city on whose territory it is located. There is still no shelter for male victims of human trafficking in Serbia.
The conference is part of the project “prEUgovor follows the reforms in Chapters 23 and 24”, funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Belgrade.
MEMBERS OF THE PREUGOVOR ARE: ASTRA – Anti-trafficking Action, Autonomous Women’s Center (AWC), Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP), Center for Applied European Studies (CAES), Center for Investigative Reporting in Serbia (CIRS), Group 484 and Transparency Serbia (TS)
The mission of the prEUgovor is to oversee the implementation of policies in the field of judiciary and fundamental rights (Chapter 23) and Justice, freedom and security (Chapter 24) and propose measures to improve the reforms, using the process of EU integration to achieve substantial progress in the further democratization of Serbia.