Human trafficking in Armenia
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Armenia is a source country for women subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced prostitution; a source and destination country for women in forced labor; and a source country for men in forced labor. Women from Armenia are subjected to sex trafficking in the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.
Armenian men and women are subjected to forced labor in Russia while Armenian women are subjected to forced labor in Turkey. Armenian boys are subjected to conditions of forced labor and Armenian women and girls are subjected to forced prostitution within the country. Women from Russia are subjected to conditions of forced labor in Armenia.
In January 2010, the Armenian government enacted legislation that increased the minimum penalty for convicted trafficking offenders to five years’ imprisonment, allowed for the confiscation of assets from convicted trafficking offenders, and exempted trafficking victims from criminal prosecution for crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked. While the government did not provide funding for victim assistance in 2009, in March 2010 it allocated approximately $15,000 to an NGO-run shelter for facility rent. The government continued to implement its national trafficking victim referral mechanism and nearly doubled the number of victims it identified compared with the previous year. The government demonstrated modest progress in combating government officials’ complicity in trafficking.
The Armenian government has increased its overall law enforcement efforts against human trafficking; however, it has not demonstrated efforts to prosecute cases linked to previous allegations of government officials’ complicity. Armenia prohibits trafficking in persons for both forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation through Articles 132 and 132-1 of its penal code which, as amended in January 2010, prescribe penalties of at least five years’ imprisonment and up to 15 years’ imprisonment – penalties that are commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.
The government investigated 15 cases of trafficking – including nine sex trafficking and six labor trafficking investigations – compared with 13 investigations in 2008. Armenian courts prosecuted 19 individuals in 12 trafficking cases during the reporting period, compared with eight individuals prosecuted in 2008. Authorities convicted 11 trafficking offenders in 2009 – including eight individuals for sex trafficking and three for labor trafficking – up from four convictions in 2008. All 11 convicted offenders in 2009 were given prison sentences; no traffickers received suspended sentences. Four offenders were given sentences ranging from three to five years’ and seven offenders were given sentences ranging from seven to 13 years’ imprisonment. As a result of the government’s anti-trafficking partnerships with outside parties, approximately 447 government officials received training from anti-trafficking NGOs, international organizations, foreign governments, and the Armenian government on a range of anti-trafficking issues including the application of Armenia’s anti-trafficking law and the national victim referral mechanism, investigation techniques, and forced labor. Although there were no new reports of government officials’ complicity in trafficking over the last year, the government demonstrated only modest progress in the reopened investigation of a well-documented 2006 corruption case. The separate trial of a former deputy principal of a state-run special needs school who was accused of forcing two students to beg in 2008 remained in progress at the conclusion of this reporting period.
The Government of Armenia has demonstrated mixed efforts to identify and provide protection to victims of trafficking. The government did not spend the funding that it had allocated for victim assistance in 2009, but in March 2010, it signed an agreement with a local NGO to provide funding for facility rent for one trafficking shelter from February through December 2010.
In September 2009, the government issued a decree that ensures victims are provided access to free state-provided medical services; two victims received such medical assistance during the reporting period. The government continued to implement its national victim referral mechanism. In March 2010, the government enacted changes to the national referral mechanism, increasing government-funded assistance and shelter for trafficking victims from seven to 30 days after their initial identification; additional assistance was contingent upon their cooperation with law enforcement investigations.
NGOs expressed concern that the national referral mechanism was disproportionately focused on prosecuting trafficking offenders rather than assisting victims. The government significantly increased the number of identified victims during the reporting period: law enforcement officials identified 60 victims in 2009 and referred 22 of them to NGOs for assistance, compared with 34 victims identified and 20 referred for assistance in 2008. Foreign-funded NGOs assisted 26 victims in 2009, compared with 24 victims in 2008. Victims were encouraged to cooperate with law enforcement bodies; in 2009, all 60 victims assisted police with trafficking investigations.
NGOs also reported improved sensitivity for victims’ rights among judges and prosecutors. Foreign trafficking victims identified within Armenia were permitted to stay in the country and work in the local economy. In November 2009, the government enacted a legislative amendment that exempts trafficking victims from criminal prosecution for any unlawful acts they may have committed as a direct result of being trafficked; there were no reports of victims being penalized for such acts during the reporting period. The lack of appropriate victim-witness protection continued to be an issue of concern; this may have hampered Armenia’s prosecution efforts.
The Armenian government has undertaken anti-human trafficking prevention efforts, particularly through awareness raising during the reporting period. In 2009, the government’s Migration Agency allocated about $8,000 for the publication and distribution of 100,000 brochures and leaflets describing legal procedures for Armenians seeking to work abroad. These materials were distributed to migrant travelers at the airport in Yerevan and also at employment centers and social resource centers.
The government also provided approximately $20,000 for an awareness campaign targeted at adolescents titled “Campaigns Among Youth to Increase Awareness on the Threat of Trafficking.” The campaign included a digital video conference discussion of the dangers of trafficking that aired on Armenian public television. The campaign also included additional regional workshops to train youth leaders about the dangers of trafficking – this information was then disseminated to their peers. Border officials did not specifically monitor emigration and immigration patterns for evidence of trafficking, and the government made no discernible efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex acts.