Trafficking in Persons Report 2016 - Country Narratives - Montenegro

MONTENEGRO: Tier 2

Montenegro is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Victims of sex trafficking identified in Montenegro are primarily women and girls from Montenegro, neighboring Balkan countries, and, to a lesser extent, other countries in Eastern Europe. Sex trafficking victims are exploited in hospitality facilities, bars, restaurants, night clubs, and cafes. Children, particularly Roma, are subjected to forced begging. Romani girls from Montenegro reportedly have been sold into marriages in Romani communities in Montenegro and, to a lesser extent, in Kosovo, and forced into domestic servitude. International organized criminal groups occasionally subject Montenegrin women and girls to sex trafficking in other Balkan countries.

The Government of Montenegro does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government maintained strong prevention efforts, enacting a 2015 action plan for the implementation of its 2012-2018 anti-trafficking strategy. Law enforcement efforts were limited; the government initiated four new investigations, and continued to prosecute and convict traffickers for the lesser crime of brokering in prostitution. The government provided victim services and identified an increased number of victims. The 2014 Foreigners Act went into effect in April 2015, allowing foreign trafficking victims to obtain three- to 12-month residence permits, and requiring police to work with NGOs and social workers to determine if a minor is a trafficking victim and eligible to receive healthcare, education, and social services.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR MONTENEGRO:

Vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including complicit officials, under article 444 of the criminal code; increase proactive screening of potential victims, especially for children in forced begging and women in forced prostitution; develop a multi-disciplinary approach to proactive victim identification and include NGOs in the national referral mechanism; continue to train law enforcement, border police, judiciary, and public officials working with vulnerable populations on victim identification and referral procedures and prosecution of traffickers; make efforts to ensure raids to free trafficking victims minimize harm to victims and include arrangements to segregate traffickers from victims, conduct victim-centered interviews, cross-reference victims’ accounts, and quickly transition identified victims to post-rescue care and shelter; and encourage trafficking victims’ participation in prosecutions in a manner that protects victims.

PROSECUTION

The government continued to make inadequate law enforcement efforts to address human trafficking. Article 444 of the criminal code prohibits sex and labor trafficking and prescribes penalties of up to 12 years’ imprisonment, with longer sentences possible for cases involving the trafficking of minors, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. In 2015, the government launched four investigations of suspected trafficking cases, compared with five in 2014. The investigations led to the arrests and prosecution of six suspects for brokering in prostitution, not trafficking, for the sexual exploitation of 16 female victims, some of whom were minors. The government did not initiate any new prosecutions under article 444 in 2015, compared with one prosecution in 2014. However, in one case involving brokering in prostitution, the defendant faces a two- to 10-year sentence, similar to the sentence he would have faced under article 444, and the government has recognized and treated the victims as trafficking victims. The government did not secure any new convictions under article 444 in 2015, the same as in 2014. It did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses. The government established a specialized trafficking in persons police unit within the organized crime division to focus on investigations and prosecutions in trafficking cases. The government also established a new office of the special state prosecutor to expand its capacity to prosecute cases of organized crime, including trafficking. Authorities increased efforts to train officials and offered specialized training for 489 police officers, prosecutors, border officers, labor inspectors, municipal employees, and other officials on victim identification and protection.

PROTECTION

The government made mixed efforts on protection. Although it continued to fund victim services, efforts to proactively identify victims were lacking, particularly among children in forced begging, and the government did not report providing care to any victims in 2015. The government identified 16 possible sex trafficking victims, some of whom were minors, compared to two in 2014. The government referred these victims to care, although none elected to use government-run shelter services. The government did not identify any labor trafficking victims, despite its acknowledgment of the need for greater efforts to prevent and protect child victims of forced labor, especially child victims of forced begging. Police identified 156 child beggars in 2014 and 122 in 2015, but did not identify any of them as trafficking victims. No victims participated in the prosecution of their traffickers in 2015. The police’s organized crime unit responsible for investigating trafficking cases regularly conducted raids in commercial sex sites, escort agencies, and bars; however, police did not identify any victims through raids in 2015. In cooperation with international organizations, the government disseminated a victim identification checklist containing trafficking indicators in the form of business cards to all law enforcement agencies, including border police and prosecutors, health and social workers, and school directors.

The government allocated 151,185 euros ($139,000) to the anti-trafficking coordinator’s office, compared to 152,422 euros ($184,000) allocated in 2014. A portion of this budget funded a shelter for trafficking victims that the government jointly operated with a Montenegrin NGO. The amount allocated to the shelter in 2015 decreased by 14 percent compared to 2014, due to the reduction of one staff member at this shelter, with funds reallocated to other anti-trafficking efforts. The shelter was open to both domestic and foreign victims; male victims were accommodated in separate living quarters in the shelter, as were children from adults. Victims could leave the shelter after an assessment made by police, or by the social welfare centers in the cases of children. Authorities offered victims medical, psychological, legal, and social assistance.

In June 2015, the government adopted a Law on Compensation of Victims, which is intended to provide financial assistance to victims of intentional violent crimes leading to severe physical injuries or emotional distress, for the purpose of obtaining treatment prior to court proceedings. However, the law will not go into effect until Montenegro becomes a member of the EU. Montenegrin law provides for the possibility for victim restitution, although there were no cases in which a victim requested or obtained restitution. In December 2014, Parliament passed the new Foreigners Act, which took effect in April 2015, providing foreign trafficking victims additional protections and clarifying their right to receive a temporary residence permit, lasting from three months to one year, and work authorization. No victims applied for residency in 2015. The act also requires police to work with NGOs and social workers to determine if a minor is a trafficking victim and therefore eligible to receive healthcare, education, and social services. The Foreigners Act also provides that child victims will receive witness protection, if necessary, and will not be returned to their country of origin if doing so would endanger their well-being. Montenegrin law prohibits the detention or arrest of persons believed to be human trafficking victims for crimes related to the trafficking. However, in October 2014, the high court confirmed the guilty verdict of a Moldovan trafficking victim and sentenced her in absentia to one year in prison for perjury for her testimony in a high profile 2002 trafficking case in which she accused high-level officials of being involved in human trafficking. NGO representatives strongly condemned the verdict for its weak legal reasoning and its chilling effect on possible future cases.

PREVENTION

The government maintained strong prevention efforts. The government adopted a 2015 action plan to implement its 2012-2018 anti-trafficking strategy, and drafted an action plan for 2016. The government produced semiannual reports of the progress made on the strategy and action plan. The anti-trafficking office had the overall lead on anti-trafficking efforts, and the office’s head was the national coordinator for the anti-trafficking taskforce, comprised of government officials, a government-funded NGO, and the international community. The taskforce continued to consult NGOs during the planning process. Taskforce members met six times for regular meetings and to coordinate assistance to potential trafficking victims. The government organized workshops in primary and secondary schools and continued to support two hotlines for victims of abuse and domestic violence, including trafficking victims; neither hotline reported receiving trafficking-related reports during the reporting period. In addition, the government conducted a national awareness campaign that included a video shown on television stations; and increased cooperation with media outlets, advertising the SOS hotline, and placing posters at all border crossings. Authorities provided specialized training to labor inspectors; however, inspectors did not identify any cases of forced labor during the reporting period. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.