Macedonia records progress in tackling human trafficking

140.jpgIn the latest annual Trafficking in Persons Report, released last month by the US State Department, Macedonia is criticised for not fully complying with the minimum standards in eliminating human trafficking. But authorities say the country has increased law enforcement co-operation with its neighbours, and is making progress.

The State Department report assesses whether each country is a source, transit or destination country for human trafficking. It also gauges compliance with laws on the protection of trafficking victims, and efforts by governments to fight the problem. It lists the countries where the human trafficking situation is seen as most critical.

“Every day, all over the world, people are coerced into bonded labour, bought and sold in prostitution, exploited in domestic servitude, enslaved in agricultural work and in factories, and captured to serve unlawfully as child soldiers,” said the director of the US Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Ambassador Mark Lagon, as he presented the report on June 12th.

“Estimates of the number vary widely,” he added. “According to US government estimates, approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year, and about 80% of them are female. Up to half are minors.”

Macedonia is a source, transit and destination country for women and children that are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation, according to the report. Macedonian women and girls are trafficked within the country — from eastern rural areas to western Macedonia — for sexual exploitation. Other victims originate from Moldova, Albania and other Eastern European countries, and are routed through Macedonia en route to Serbia, Montenegro, Albania and Western Europe. T

he Interior Ministry has sought to crack down on trafficking and prostitution rings. Police have raided cafes and restaurants, finding dozens of women and girls, including foreign nationals, who are subject to sexual exploitation. They are then sent to the Shelter Transit Centre near Skopje. The centre provides safe housing for victims at the pre-trial, trial, and post-trial stages, until they can be repatriated.

The main problem, Macedonian police say, is that victims are rarely willing to testify against pimps. That makes it difficult to obtain a conviction.

In November 2006, a Skopje court convicted 26 members of an international group that was involved in trafficking humans. Altogether, the defendants were sentenced to 108 years in prison, with individual sentences varying.

The State Department report acknowledges that Macedonia’s anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts have shown positive results in the last year. The government prosecuted 48 cases related to trafficking in 2006, a significant increase from the 35 cases prosecuted in the previous reporting period.

Although the laws prescribe penalties that are sufficiently stringent, light sentences are sometimes imposed on convicted offenders, the report says.

The judiciary remains the weakest link in the anti-trafficking fight, according to the US State Department. With significant procedural errors and delays extending the duration of proceedings, conviction rates for trafficking prosecutions remain low.

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