CYPRUS has been placed on the US' sex trafficking watch list after failing to meet minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, failing to show evidence of increased efforts to do so and ‘woefully inadequate' punishments.
According to the US Department of State's 2011 report: “The Government of Cyprus does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking... (having) failed to demonstrate evidence of increasing efforts to address human trafficking... and failed to vigorously prosecute or convict trafficking offenders.”
The stark assessment means Cyprus has moved from a “Tier 2” to a “Tier 2 watch list” country, alongside, among others, Burundi, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Estonia and Malta were the only other European countries to receive Tier 2 watch list status.
Asked about the report, Police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos said yesterday: “We have received the report and we are studying the observations within it, to see if there are any gaps and new measures to be taken.”
The report does indeed highlight several gaps. Over the year, the government identified 17 victims of forced labour, 24 sex-trafficking victims and two victims subjected to both labour and commercial sexual exploitation.
Twenty-four victims of sex trafficking were identified during the reporting period, in comparison with 21 such victims identified in 2009 and 41 in 2008.
Of particular concern to the report's authors was the resounding failure to prosecute traffickers. The report says: “The government did not convict or sentence any officials complicit in trafficking in Cyprus, which observers allege continued to be a significant problem.”
During the reporting period, the government investigated 29 suspected cases of trafficking, an increase from 17 suspected trafficking cases in 2009. Although there were 41 ongoing trafficking prosecutions at the end of 2009, the government secured convictions in only three cases, convicting three trafficking offenders in 2010 and one in 2011.
“Punishments for these offenders were woefully inadequate: one offender was sentenced to six months' imprisonment with the suspension of an additional three years' imprisonment, one was convicted to 12 months in prison, and the two others each received a nine-month sentence.”
The report also highlighted the government's ‘slow' implementation of its National Action Plan (NAP) to tackle trafficking, which began in April 2010 and the ineffectual replacement of the “artiste” visa:
“Implementation of the (NAP) was slow. The government made few improvements in the protection of victims; it did not ensure procedures for the safe repatriation of foreign victims. The artiste visa that was of grave concern in previous reporting periods was replaced with other visa or work permit categories which traffickers have managed to exploit.”
Added to the list of failures, the report also notes the government has yet to implement a campaign to address demand for prostitutes and educate clients about the realities of forced prostitution.
The report makes several recommendations, including taking greater measures to prosecute, convict and sentence trafficking offenders.
It encourages punishments commensurate with those imposed on other serious criminal offenders, and to aggressively prosecute and seek convictions of any officials complicit in trafficking.
The report also suggests implementing guidelines for all front-line responders, outlining identification, referral and protection procedures for potential trafficking victims;
Victims should also be offered legal alternatives to deportation and the government should proactively implement the National Action Plan on trafficking.
Meanwhile, in the north, the report noted: “Turkish Cypriot authorities continue to deny that trafficking is a significant problem, posing a serious challenge to assuring any protection for women from trafficking or the prosecution of their traffickers.”
Local observers continued to report a significant trafficking problem with foreign women being deprived of their freedom in nightclubs. Nonetheless, Turkish Cypriot authorities identified no trafficking victims during the reporting period.