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by Dr. Anton Burkov , PhD (Cantab), LLM (Essex)

Russia and the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings

The majority of participants in the round table “International standards of actions against trafficking: The Russian Experience”, held in Yekaterinburg on 21st September 2010 agreed that Russia should ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings.

Despite the fact that it has been 200 years since the slave trade was outlawed in Europe, the issue of fighting trafficking in human beings has not lost its immediacy. According to unofficial data, this “business” is the third most lucrative after drugs and weapons trafficking. In 2005, the Council of Europe issued the Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings for the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to be able to deal with the issue of trafficking in human beings.

On 15 September 2010, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe considered the issue of implementation of the ECHR judgement of 7th January 2010 on Rantsev v. Cyprus and Russia, a case involving the trafficking and subsequent death of Russian citizen Oksana Rantseva, who was a victim of the contemporary slave trade in the Republic of Cyprus in 2001. The ECHR judged that, among other violations, Cyprus and Russia violated Article 4 (pertaining to the prohibition of slavery and forced labour) of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. In 2001, Ms Rantseva had signed a contract in Russia to work as a translator and arrived in Cyprus soon afterwards. However, instead of working as a translator as promised, she was forced to work as “an artiste” (meaning “prostitute”) in a local cabaret. Attempting to escape, she died after falling from the seventh floor balcony of an apartment that belonged to one of her employers. The circumstances of her suspicious death were never investigated and remain unknown. Neither Cyprus nor Russia conducted a proper criminal investigation into the facts of the death or her human trafficking, leading Ms Rantseva’s father to initiate a case in the European Court of Human Rights, which, in turn led to the ECHR judgement.

Following the judgement, the members of the Discussion Club organised a roundtable on the issue of ‘Urgent Problems of Interaction of the Government and Civil Society‘1,to discuss the international mechanisms protecting against human trafficking and the Russian experience.

The roundtable gathered together the Ombudsman of Sverdlovsk oblast, representatives of state bodies (the Office of the Plenipotentiary of the President of the Russian President in the Urals Federal Region, the Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Yekaterinburg, the Department of State’s unemployment agency in Sverdlovsk oblast, the Main Directorate of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation in Sverdlovsk oblast, the Procurator office, and the Federal Immigration Office Agency), representatives of consulates of foreign states in Ekaterinburg, specialists in international law, and representatives of civil society, including journalists, advocates, and members of NGOs.

The following issues were discussed at the roundtable: prevention of human trafficking, protection of the rights of victims of human trafficking, ensuring the effective investigation and prosecution of those responsible for trafficking, and assistance in international cooperation in the fight against human trafficking. The main topic of discussion was whether Russia should ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings (opened for signature in Warsaw on 16 May 2005 (the Convention)), and whether Russia was ready to accept additional international obligations. So far, 43 European states have signed the Convention, 30 of which have ratified it. The Russian Federation, along with Liechtenstein, Monaco, and the Czech Republic, have neither ratified nor signed the Convention.

Russian proponents of ratification of the Convention argue that it would put an international obligation on Russia that would raise the benchmark of state responsibility in tackling human trade and slavery, motivating Russia to pass new laws guaranteeing victim’s rights and international collaboration in investigating human trade. In particular, would promote the criminal prosecution of those involved in trafficking (recruitment and dating agencies, etc.). This would require legislation change, as today only individual people can be prosecuted as criminals. Under the Convention, states have to report before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on measures undertaken to counteract trade in human beings.

However, those opposed to the ratification of the Convention insisted that Russia should first work to make political, economic, and legal reforms before ratifying the Convention. According to this view, ratification would not make a difference if Russia is not ready to meet its obligations under the Convention. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe lack the power to enforce the Convention even in the cases of an unsatisfactory report. Additionally, opponents argued that sufficient mechanisms to counteract human trade already existed — namely, the Federal Law, passed 8 December 2003 (? 162-FZ), which introduced two new corpus delicti to the Criminal Code: trade in human beings (Article 127.1) and use of slave labour (Article 127.2). The definition of “trade in human beings” in the Russian Criminal Code is identical to that in the Convention.

It is possible to agree with opponent in some areas, but not in the following:

First, it is not enough to criminalise a particular act — prosecution must also be effective. In Rantseva v. Cyprus and Russia, an investigation into the death of Oksana Rantseva was not initiated until nine years after her death, and even then only into her death and not her trafficking. There is no investigation under Article 127.1 of the Criminal Code.

Secondly, legislation that does not correspond to the Convention at present is not reason enough for Russia not to ratify the Convention. For example, the Russian Federation ratified the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in 1998, even though the Russian Federation did not meet Council of Europe standards. However, with time and the motivation provided by ratification of the Convention, Russia has been bringing its national standards in line with European. A recent example is a new Russian Federal Law of 30 April 2010 ? 68-FZ “Compensation to Citizens for Violation of the Right to a Fair Trial within a Reasonable Time or the Right to Enforcement of a Judgement within a Reasonable Time” ensuring a fair and speedy trial. It is necessary to ratify the anti-trafficking Convention without delay in order to set a standard to follow.

In the Urals region, roundtable participants confirmed their unity and readiness to take measures against trafficking when they voted for a resolution to appeal to the President of the Russian Federation and Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings.

It is worth noting that the roundtable took place on 21st September, the same day the Supreme Council of Ukraine (Verkhovna Rada) ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings. Will the Russian Federation follow Ukraine? Or, rather, when will it follow Ukraine?

This article in Russian

Source - EU-Russia Center





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