Human trafficking, forced labour in Georgia highlighted in US report

The report recommends Georgian government to investigate and prosecute suspected traffickers, including brothel owners., 21 Jun 2014 - 17:59, Tbilisi,Georgia

The Georgian Government is actively working to prevent human trafficking in Georgia as a US report states Georgia is "a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically the forced prostitution of women and the forced labour of men, women and children”.

Georgia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs issued a special statement in response to the US State Department publishing its Trafficking in Persons Report 2014, which also said Georgian women and girls were subject to sex trafficking within the country, as well as to Turkey and to a lesser extent, to the United Arab Emirates and Russia.

The report claimed women from Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and other countries were forced into prostitution in Georgia’s commercial sex trade in the tourist areas of Batumi and Gonio in Adjara.

"In May 2013, an Uzbek sex trafficking victim was murdered in western Georgia by a man believed to be acting on behalf of her trafficker.

Experts report that women are subjected to sex trafficking in saunas, strip clubs, casinos and hotels,” read the report.

Furthermore, it stated Georgian men and women were subjected to forced labour within Georgia, in Turkey, Russia, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Italy, Qatar, Sweden and other countries.

"Georgian migrants pursuing employment in agriculture and other low-skilled jobs contact employers or agents directly, only later becoming victims in their destination country. In recent years, foreign nationals have been exploited in agriculture, construction and domestic service within Georgia," the report said.

No information was available about the presence of human trafficking in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

"The Government of Georgia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, however it is making significant efforts to do so,” said the US Department of State. It said Georgia’s anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts were low but there had been a marked improvement compared to last year’s report.

"Arrests of brothel owners seldom led to prosecutions, with brothels continuing to operate. The absence of a functioning Labour Inspectorate for the identification of cases of labour trafficking continued to be an issue of concern,” the US said in the report.

The US recommended it would be helpful to assign police with specialised training in trafficking to participate in raids of suspected brothels and allow victim assistance service providers to participate in Adjara province. It also suggested these officers could investigate and, when sufficient evidence existed, prosecute suspected traffickers, including brothel owners.

It also advised Georgia create a functioning Labour Inspectorate that would identify instances of trafficking or forced labour, and given the absence of labour inspectors in Georgia, ensure proactive outreach to workers, including documented and undocumented foreign migrants who were vulnerable to trafficking.

Another recommendation was to ensure children forced into prostitution were properly identified as trafficking victims, as well as children who were subjected to forced begging and vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation, and are not inadvertently criminalized or punished for crimes committed as a direct result of their being trafficked.

The report said it would be reasonable to increase efforts to investigate and prosecute suspected trafficking cases, including by assessing non-physical forms of coercion, and convict labour and sex trafficking offenders.

According to the statistics represented in the report, the Georgian Government prosecuted and convicted two people under Article 143(2) for sex trafficking of a minor during the reporting period of the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2014.

In January 2014, one of those offenders was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment and the other was sentenced in absentia to 11 years and six months’ imprisonment.

"An official expressed concern about a lack of political will to combat trafficking, as evidenced by the reduction in staffing in the prosecutor’s trafficking unit from 2009-2012. Brothel owners who may have subjected women to sex trafficking were not properly investigated.

The Government continued its training programs for law enforcement as well as additional specialized training for prosecutors, judges, immigration officials, border police, and other front-line responders during the year," read the report.

In response, the Ministry of Internal Affairs said in a special release that despite the US State Department report, the Government had improved its efforts to combat both problems human trafficking and forced labour in Georgia.

"Forty-two victims of sexual exploitation have been identified this year, which is far more than the 18 cases identified last year,” the statement said. It added another positive trend was that law enforcement employees were regularly trained in trafficking related issues in order to improve their skills and knowledge.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs said: "Meanwhile, according to the observations of experts, improvement in investigation and detection techniques of trafficking victims is needed.”

The Government funded two shelters for victims, in which 15 people were provided with medical, legal and psychological services last year.

In addition, 29 trafficking victims received $650 (1,160 GEL) financial aid from the Government, while only five people received the same aid in 2012. Furthermore, in May 2013 the Georgian Government signed an agreement of cooperation with international organisations on employment and support of foreign victims of trafficking, including repatriation.

"The Georgian Government continues to take action to prevent human trafficking. Board information campaigns were held during the year and in cooperation with international organisations, special leaflets were published in Georgian, English and Russian languages about the risks connected with trafficking. [These were] distributed at border check-points,” the Ministry said.

"Materials about trafficking were distributed to children's shelters and youth organizations. Also a hotline for victims of trafficking is working 24 hours a day.”