Human trafficking often goes unpunished in Greece, data show

Most of the human traffickers apprehended in Greece are still at large – only a handful are serving sentences, while tens of thousands of women are being forced to prostitute themselves. A US State Department report on human trafficking in Greece issued last year said that Greek courts had let most of the accused go free, and that the government could not confirm if any of those convicted had served their sentences. Between 2003, when the law against human trafficking came into effect, until mid-2006, 869 perpetrators were brought to court. According to the Justice Ministry, by mid-2005, 216 cases had been heard and 284 people had been convicted, but it’s not known how many are serving time. Only a handful are thought to be in prison for human trafficking. Ignorant public, judges thwart sentencing efforts Greek society is largely tolerant of the situation, instead going along with the myth that women forced into sex work have chosen this kind of life. «At least one in three men and half of all married men have used the services of women forced into prostitution,» former parliamentary deputy Thanos Askitis once said. Because state services have virtually no presence in small towns, authorities who are either lazy or incompetent do little to bring smugglers to justice. The Greek branch of Helsinki Watch has made the following observations: * In October 2005, a Serres court sentenced two people to 17 years’ imprisonment and another to 15 years. The jury members voted to allow them to go free until their appeal was heard. * In December 2005, a Thessaloniki court ordered a preliminary investigation, which is still pending, over the failure by the Thessaloniki Security Police to issue an arrest warrant for a person accused of trafficking. The person continued to carry out crimes of this nature and was rearrested twice on the same charges, involving two other victims. The original arrest warrant was never found and the perpetrator was finally arrested by Thessaloniki’s anti-trafficking squad and imprisoned. * In June 2006, a Kyparissia court sentenced a person to 4.5 years’ imprisonment and another to 2.5 years; the sentence was suspended until the hearing of the appeal. According to Helsinki Watch spokesman Panayiotis Dimitras, the behavior of many judges and prosecutors shows that they have little awareness. «So they are unable to brief jurors. Secondly, male judges, particularly the older ones, appear to have great difficulty imposing sentences,» he said. «Female judges are more sensitive, and since the most recent appeals court promotions, many judges in these hearings have been women.» UN: Greek laws not being enforced In its report issued on February 2, the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed satisfaction with measures taken in Greece but concern that the problems were persisting and laws not being enforced, particularly in the sectors of prevention, help for victims, prosecution and punishment of perpetrators. «The Greek state does not have the will to break up trafficking,» said Helsinki Watch’s Dimitras. Trading in people from Nigeria is currently rife not only in Greece but throughout Europe. Traffickers ensure their victims’ compliance by threatening them with voodoo. Over 50,000 Nigerian women have been forced into prostitution in the European Union in the past five years. Yet recently the Athens criminal prosecutor rejected an outrageous case regarding a 24-year-old woman who had found support from an evangelical non-governmental organization. She had paid off her Nigerian pimp and the voodoo priest and filed a suit. During the hearing and the police investigation, a number of omissions were made, according to the Helsinki Watch report to the UN, resulting in the detention of the woman for three months. She then fled so as not to fall into the hands of the traffickers again. Two weeks ago another such case involving three Nigerian women was tried, with support from the NGO Klimaka. One of the two accused was sentenced to 19 years’ imprisonment, but the other was acquitted. Both the accused were Nigerian nationals. In a number of other trials, mainly in the provinces and involving women from Eastern Europe, Greek nationals accused have either been acquitted or let off lightly. Even those convicted are set free again a few days or even months after their conviction. A typical story is that of a Greek human trafficker (a case taken up by the International Organization for Migration) who was convicted but set free after paying -27,000 bail. A year later, he was once again arrested for human trafficking and again freed. «Bail is the right of every person accused of a crime, evaluated by the Council of Appeals and Magistrates’ Court,» said lawyer Eleni Glegle. «However, when the individual commits the same crime again, and yet still presumed innocent until proven otherwise, the situation becomes tragic, for that person, his accomplices, whether local or foreign, and society itself concludes that he has done nothing wrong.» Police methods raise questions Police often bungle human trafficking investigations, which must be carried out thoroughly in order to see results. A study of relevant cases raises several questions. For example why, in the case of the three Nigerians mentioned above, was there no investigation of the employers who had given the women social security stamps? Why did no one ask what happened to the bar where the third woman was made to work? In the case of the first Nigerian woman who was not recognized as a victim, why were the gang’s mobile phone numbers, which she gave to police, not investigated? Why were female trafficking victims tried for making false declarations that the gang had actually made in their names, thereby abolishing their right to be called as witnesses? And, finally, why is a charge against the Greek Consulate in Moscow of issuing illegal visas still pending?