Clerks Involved in People Trafficking: a State Secret

Most of them are single mothers with one child who have to go abroad to earn money to support their families. Only foreign organisations deal with the social, psychological and professional rehabilitation of human trafficking victims in Moldova, as well as their defence in court. The state hasn’t taken any measures yet to re-integrate these women into society, while some clerks or state officials directly take part in abusing them. At the same time, punishing inefficient officials is not a governmental priority.

Their names are Ana, Maria, Viorica and Natalia. For a decade Moldova’s villages and cities are aware that these girls have been taken abroad by men, where something ‘bad’ happened to them. That is why everyone points to them. The women would tell the state authorities about Vasile, Ion, Serghei and Alexei, who falsified their identity documents and took them at night in the boot of a car across the border. But this requires judicial, medical, psychological services and centres that would provide shelter to them. At the same time, the men would say how much and to whom they’ve paid for false documents to cross the border, but since Ana and Maria have kept silent, the men’s accomplices – state clerks, remain anonymous. Moldova is a leader in human trafficking and the last in fighting it.

An iceberg with its victims above the surface

A psychologist at the Organisation for Immigration’s (IMO) rehabilitation center, Lilia Gorceag, stated that, according to statistics, single mothers are usually become victims of the human trafficking phenomenon. On the one hand, they were rejected by their husbands and often parents. On the other hand, the social system does not offer too much support when they end up raising their children on their own.

Thus, they accept going abroad voluntarily. They don’t leave to end up in the arms of the traffickers, but they run away from home, from their families, where they are treated with violence, from poverty and from a society that cannot support them. “They live with the idea that they will run and go other places to work so that they could raise their children, fix the roof on their house or even buy a place to live.”

According to them, this is the only way to escape from poverty and violence. Unfortunately, victims are not aware of the risks and do not know their rights,” said Gorceag. After they are sexually exploited abroad, they come back where they are condemned by society for the mistakes they’ve made. But the great mistakes seem to be committed by others.

“The epicentre is the victim, not the crime”

The psychologist mentioned that more than half of the centre’s beneficiaries have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress. Meetings with journalists are not recommended, because by retelling their stories, the shock comes again. At the same time, Gorceag believes that the press can help society understand who is guilty for that.  “Human trafficking is like an iceberg,” she said, mentioning that above the surface its victims are, with their issues, and under it – people who take advantage financially of human exploitation.  “Those who pick them up receive little money and are sentenced for deprivation of freedom. Those who take the cream remain free, and the intermediaries are sentenced, while they are the unseen part of the iceberg,” Gorceag said, smiling sadly. The psychologist stressed the fact that “it is not spoken only about corruption here, but about the lack of desire to get things done too, about the negative attitude, the lack of experience and old social concepts.”

Another problem mentioned by the NGOs fighting human trafficking is the lack of efforts made by the government to assist and protect victims. Article 2 from the 2003 Criminal Code stated that “victims must receive compensation for the legal expenses and the damages caused by the illicit actions of the prosecution authorities must be fixed.” In July 2006 this was cancelled and the victim’s damage had to be covered from the trafficker’s income. According to Ion Vazdoaga, the head of the Center for Fighting Women Trafficking, the victim doesn’t have the same rights in the legal system as the trafficker does. “This is also the state’s fault, because the state was suppose to pay for this from its budget,” he also said. Vazdoaga added that in fighting human trafficking “the epicentre is the victim and not the crime.” The state is interested in sentencing criminals and having more filed cases, while the victims remain in the shadows. The state does not have a victims’ database and does not allocate any money for their social and medical rehabilitation, he added.

Governments of other countries support our victims

Financing the activities for fighting human trafficking is done by foreign donors, international organisations and the governments of other countries. At present the state budget does not include any special expenses for fighting human trafficking. Only for this year, the government allocated 512,000 lei for the expenses of the trafficking victims’ rehabilitation centre, specified Victor Lutenco, the coordinator of the IMO’s “Traffic Prevention” program.

At the same time, there are discussions about the mechanism of transferring the rehabilitation centre from IMO management to the Ministry of Social, Family and Child Protection. Gorceag said that the state has not proven to be able to provide assistance at IMO level, “not because the government doesn’t want to, but because it is unable to cover such expenses.” At present, for every beneficiary $1,000 is spent within the centre. While at present, the state pays a monthly allowance of 100 lei to mothers of newborn children, the real expenses of taking care of a newborn child reaches the sum of 1,000 lei.

The rehabilitation centre offers trafficking victims everything that might help them become members of society again, starting with personal hygiene items and clothing, so that the victim feels dignified and so “that she wouldn’t hide her feet under the table when talking to someone, ashamed of her worn out shoes,” and, finally, professional counselling, Gorceag stated. In this way, they are taught how to develop a small business so that they can manage in the economic environment. The assistance given to a victim is 90% with the support of the international community. At this moment, the initiative to shift the rehabilitation centre from the IMO management to the MSFCP is at documentation level, Ana Revenco, manager of the International Center La Strada pointed out.

What does and what doesn’t the Government of the Republic of Moldova do in order to protect the victims and punish the clerks encouraging this phenomenon?

Confidentiality respected only in law

The activities supporting human trafficking victims are a delicate issue. According to Article 21 of the Law on Preventing and Fighting Human Trafficking, the confidentiality of the victim’s private life should be protected. Revenco stated that sometimes the law’s principles are not respected and the victims don’t always receive the benefit of these legal rights. NGOs are working to make a change in the police mentality and working procedure with the victims. She said that the main goal of related organisations is that trafficked people should receive assistance throughout their legal trial. “At the present moment this is happening, but there are cases when the legislation is violated because of the high flow of staff within the judicial structures. Some are trained, others are working, and the third ones are just coming in and the work starts from the beginning.”

The 2008 US State Department Report on human trafficking has generated a number of reactions in Moldova. According to the report, the Republic of Moldova was placed in the third category, along with 13 other states, including North Korea, Cuba, Iran and Sudan.

According to the US Embassy in Moldova, the State Department presents each year to congress a report on the efforts of foreign governments in removing severe forms of human trafficking. Between 2005-2007, the Republic of Moldova was placed in the second category. In 2008,  it was relegated to the third category, which means that the Government of the Republic of Moldova doesn’t reach the minimum standards and doesn’t make significant efforts in reaching them. The US Embassy in Moldova explained that this placement is based more on government’s actions, or rather non-actions, for the systemic resolution of the problem, rather than on the seriousness of the situation.

Governmental transparency – a solution on fighting corruption

Victor Lutenco from the IMO said that this categorisation made by the US Government “is due to the RM Government’s inability or lack of desire to make visible some of its actions related to the investigation of highly-placed persons or police authorities that were accused of complicity to trafficking networks.” The US report reveals that Moldovan authorities have not really taken such actions and have not informed the international community about the resolution of this problem. Revenco, also pointed out that, in this context “there is lack of transparency and visibility in some public clerks’ complicity to human trafficking.”

Viorel Ciobanu, deputy prosecutor of the Fighting Human Trafficking Department of the General-Prosecutor’s Office, believes that there are some particular cases where state intervention was not quite adequate, “but this cannot lead to such a drastic attitude as the US Government has, for it asks from us what we don’t have.” According to Ciobanu, judicial authorities cannot arrest what doesn’t exist, only because the US Government asks that.

The 2007 Prosecutor’s Office Report shows that human trafficking is still an urgent matter and the actions taken were not efficient.

10% of denounced traffickers end up in prison

The US State Department asked the RM Government to improve its data concerning investigated cases, the traffickers’ convictions and sentences, with a detailed specification of applied punishments and information about the dossiers where prison sentences were reduced or suspended by amnesty.

Vazdoaga said that the RM’s justice system is still under the influence of post-Soviet ideology, “where work is done on reporting quantitative indicators – the more filed cases, the better.” The efficiency of judicial authorities is limited at reporting the filed cases, “seldom convicted persons are mentioned, especially because after a certain period of time these persons are amnestied, or their case is re-examined and re-classified by another article,” Lutenco said.

The inefficiency of the justice system is due first of all to the lack of mechanism which would exclude corruption in the investigation of trafficking cases starting from operative groups of the police and ending with judges. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Center for Fighting Human Trafficking, in 2007-2008 seven cases of attempted bribing of police co-workers for influencing the investigation were recorded. Usually, such bribes vary from $200-1,000.

According to the General Prosecutor’s Office statistics, in 2007 there were 507 recorded cases of human trafficking, out of which 340 files where sent to trial, and 233 people were convicted. Of these cases, only 51 are in prison, while the rest were given suspended sentences, fined or acquitted. This means that only 10% of the total number of persons convicted for selling women end up in prison.

Two weeks after the US State Department’s report was launched, the members of a criminal group and its leader, Alexandru Covali (alias Salun), were sentenced for human trafficking, child trafficking, proxenetism and so on. The General Prosecutor’s Office didn’t offer any information about the former MIA employees that worked in the subdivisions specialised in fighting human trafficking who have favoured this criminal group. We were told that a multi-disciplinary group was created to work on these investigations, and the investigation’s findings will the announced at the end of the criminal investigation. Viorel Ciobanu explained that the criminal files on the names of the former MIA employees were not opened together with the Salun file, because there was not enough evidence to initiate a criminal investigation. Iurie Ursan, head of the Analytical Department at the MIA’s Fighting Human Trafficking Center, said that “there are cases where certain clerks are involved in organising illegal migration.” If the person was an accomplice or a simple transporter, or an intermediary helping issuing a fake identity document or certificate, then the person could receive a softer sentence, fine or be suspended from their job for a certain period of time. According to the Criminal Code, the punishments for human trafficking are pretty harsh: from seven to 25 years.

Trafficking clerks, neither name nor record

When writing this article, I’ve insisted on receiving data regarding public clerks involved in trafficking cases. We were hardly told about a single case where a public clerk was blamed for involvement in organising illegal migration. The case we were informed of was about a mayor from Straseni district, who is accused of having obtained illegally certain documents through a deal with other people for a citizen’s illegal crossing of the border. It is assumed that the mayor benefited in this case 3,800 euros and was arrested in October 2007 while receiving the money. At this moment, the legal dossier is only being investigated.

Other cases were not offered to us. Moreover, we were suggested that the situation described by the US State Department Report is exaggerated and must not be taken into consideration. Victor Stepaniuc, himself head of the National Committee on Fighting Human Trafficking, has declared after this report that he will prove the exact opposite. However, this has not been proven, because after a couple of days President Voronin has declared for the first time in eight years that those who were paid from the budget to fight women trafficking actually favoured it. In this context, certain data was presented that proved the existence of serious drawbacks in the functioning of the CFHT, which allowed the creation, with the centre’s involvement and protection, of certain criminal schemes of transporting Moldovan citizens to work abroad. Therefore, certain CFHT co-workers, openly ignoring their work and responsibilities, have provided, for a certain amount, various ‘services’ to traffickers, including not starting legal proceedings or closing cases on actions of human trafficking, covering up the problems, and so on.

One thousand euros for one trafficked person

“The most widely spread transporting channels have become certain tourism agencies, which have created a genuine network for collecting money. According to the received information, in the CIS area, the Republic of Moldova is the country with the highest taxes for organising work migration for citizens, and 20% of the sums collected by traffickers from illegal immigrants are transmitted to some co-workers of the CFHT,” a press release delivered by the Moldovan Presidency at the end of June mentioned.

The press are still waiting for the names of people that have collected 20% of the money taken from citizens who went abroad. At present, travel companies offer Schengen visas for 4,000-5,000 euros. This means that from every citizen, the centre’s co-workers would have received 1,000 euros. In the last couple of years, almost one million people have emigrated from Moldova.

The state doesn’t count victims and doesn’t warn them about the dangers

It seems that even the activities of preventing human trafficking are covered by the related NGOs. These organisations carry out activities of informing the population on the danger of this calamity throughout schools and localities. According to Revenco, the topic of preventing human trafficking was included in its ‘life skills’ project, but the book was excluded from schools’ curriculums.

Vazdoaga mentioned that the state seems to lack desire in this matter, because “it is from here that its involvement in fighting this calamity can be seen.”

According to Revenco, there is no institution in Moldova that would generalise statistics on human trafficking victims. “We have a bad situation in the domain of data management and this is a very big drawback for the RM.” Every organisation and association that conducts activities of assistance and protection of human trafficking victims throughout the country keeps its own records, but no one collects this data at a state level. “At the end of the year, only IMO does the calculations to exclude double entries and offer correct data,” Revenco mentioned.

IMO statistics show that in 2007, 273 new trafficking cases were recorded compared 295 in 2006; two-thirds of them were sexually exploited.

“The US Government expects results”

Our attempts to receive from the Moldovan Government an answer regarding the preparation of their report at the request of the US Government were in vain. We tried to speak with Deputy Prime Minister Stepaniuc, who is also the President of the National Committee on Fighting Human Trafficking. Viorel Zabolotnic, the deputy prime Minister’s councillor, has twice stated that Stepaniuc’s agenda is very busy. According to him, the government will organise meetings and seminars with the media and NGO participation every week, where information on preparing the report for the US State Department will be offered. I was told the same thing from the deputy prime Minister’s secretary and, namely that Stepaniuc was busy, had a lot of meetings and could not give a reply to this matter. While waiting for a couple of weeks, I understand that no press conference with Stepaniuc was arranged, but the results of the US State Department Report did have a certain effect on the government.

Lutenco feels that the US report is not done for the sake that someone else writes another report to justify himself. This report is an act through which, according to the legislation, the US is trying to monitor and coordinate how the states to which they offer financial assistance follow certain principles and standards that the US requires in fighting human trafficking. Lutenco said that “this is a normal procedure, especially because the report doesn’t only draw conclusions, but it also offers recommendations, which the government could take into consideration,” given the fact that, throughout many years, the US has offered assistance for awareness and solving the trafficking issue.

The government agrees that there are victims

The US Embassy’s press service mentioned that, in case the Government of Moldova doesn’t prove comprehension of the problem and doesn’t show its openness to contribute to stopping actions of selling people, then the RM could confront itself with US’ withstanding towards the assistance coming from international financial organisations such as the IMF and World Bank, meant for solving this kind of social problems.

Financing offered through the Millennium Development Goals and USAID could be at risk. “No final decision of a potential punishment will be taken before careful examination of Moldova’s progress after 60 days,” the US Embassy’s press service mentioned.

Whilst the US Government expects certain results and meeting of standards as recompense to the assistance it provides, our government has already taken the first steps in recognising the victims’ status. Although for many years, international organisations have pointed to the victims’ situation, to the need of creating a shelter and some medical, social, psychological and vocational services for the victims, nothing has changed yet. However, after the US State Department has openly shown its bemusement, in just a few days the government issued a resolution: creating the Center for Assistance and Protection of Human Trafficking Victims and Potential Victims.”

The necessity of adopting this document is explained in the first paragraph: “with the purpose of enforcing laws on fighting human trafficking, approved in 2005.” Three years after the law’s approval very little has changed, everything came after the critical US report. For now, this decision provides the management in common with the IMO of the centre opened and financed due to international assistance since 2001.

After the publication of this government’s decision, actions should follow. We will continue following this issue.

Veronica Russu

Leave a Reply