2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Latvia
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||27 June 2011|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Latvia, 27 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e12ee693c.html [accessed 30 July 2014]|
Latvia (Tier 2)
Latvia is a source country for women, men, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Latvian women are forced into prostitution in Italy, Spain, Ireland, Greece, Cyprus, the Netherlands, and Germany. Latvian men and women have been subjected to conditions of forced labor in the United Kingdom and there were anecdotal reports that Latvian men may have been subjected to conditions of forced labor in Sweden. In prior years, there were unofficial reports that some Latvian teenage girls were subjected to sex trafficking within the country.
The Government of Latvia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the reporting period, the government established an intra-governmental coordination mechanism and began to develop policies to combat labor trafficking. The government also sustained funding for victim assistance despite government-wide budget cuts and developed improved procedures to identify victims of trafficking. The government demonstrated progress in prosecuting and convicting trafficking offenders, though the majority of convicted trafficking offenders continued to avoid punishment that included jail time. Moreover, none of the investigations opened in the last year involved suspected labor trafficking. In the coming year, the government should improve its response to labor trafficking, use its intra-governmental mechanism to further strengthen and clarify victim identification procedures, and empower all anti-trafficking actors to share information with each other and the public.
Recommendations for Latvia: Increase efforts to identify victims, particularly victims of labor trafficking and domestic victims; refer all potential victims of trafficking for victim certification in order to qualify for government-funded victim assistance; improve identification of victims of labor trafficking, including possibly through the development of regulations governing identification procedures and identification criteria; increase investigations and prosecutions of suspected domestic and labor trafficking offenses; impose criminal penalties on convicted trafficking offenders commensurate with the gravity of the crime committed; consider enhancing internal and external monitoring and reporting functions to ensure that all victims identified by government actors, including victims identified abroad by Latvian officials, are given access to government-funded assistance, and that national anti-trafficking policy development considers and enhances monitoring and reporting functions; continue efforts to ensure that all victims of trafficking are provided appropriate protections throughout the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenses; continue implementing the 2009-2013 National Anti-Trafficking Program; consider centralizing anti-trafficking hotlines to enhance trafficking prevention and identification of trafficking victims; continue efforts to systematically monitor trafficking trends; and increase efforts to raise awareness about both sex and labor trafficking.
The Latvian government demonstrated improvement in its law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking in persons, despite the fact that it did not initiate new prosecutions of labor trafficking offenses in 2010. Latvia prohibits all forms of trafficking through Sections 154-1 and 165-1 of its Criminal Law, which prescribe penalties ranging from a fine up to 15 years' imprisonment. These prescribed penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government used Section 165-1 – a non-trafficking law prohibiting the transfer of individuals for the purpose of sexual exploitation of persons – to investigate, prosecute, and achieve convictions in most trafficking cases during the reporting period. Use of this statute allowed prosecutors more flexibility to pursue cases in which the element of force, fraud, or coercion was more difficult to establish. Both the police and the prosecutors' offices have specialized anti-trafficking units. In general, the government's investigation and prosecution of criminal trafficking cases increased in 2010. The government reported investigating 38 suspected offenders in 33 criminal cases, in contrast to 34 cases investigated in 2009. None of the new investigations in 2010 involved suspected labor trafficking, despite continuing international reports that Latvian citizens were potentially subjected to forced labor abroad and reports that there were potential victims of trafficking in the domestic grey market economy. Latvian authorities in 2010, however, continued the prosecution of two major cases started in previous years; these cases involved alleged labor trafficking. Latvian authorities prosecuted 39 suspected trafficking offenders in 2010, a 50 percent increase from 26 offenders prosecuted in 2009. In 2010, 21 trafficking offenders received final convictions from the Courts of First Instance, an increase from the 15 offenders who received final convictions in 2009. These figures do not include appealed convictions. Nevertheless, sentencing rates for final convictions remained low. Only five of the 21 convicted trafficking offenders were sentenced to time in prison. Of those five offenders, one received a sentence of less than one year; three offenders were sentenced to terms of one to five years and one was sentenced to a term of five to 10 years in prison. This is roughly the same sentencing rate that Latvia displayed in 2009, when four out of 15 convicted trafficking offenders received time in prison.
This year, more convicted trafficking offenders filed appeals with the Supreme Court than in previous years. In 2010, the Supreme Court reviewed cases against a total of 10 offenders. Most of these offenders were convicted by a Court of First Instance in 2010. Two of these offenders had received conditional sentences with three years' probation from the Court of First Instance; three had been sentenced to prison terms of two to five years; five offenders had been sentenced to terms of 10 years or more.
The Latvian state police developed new regulations to improve trafficking investigations during the reporting period. Since September 2010, the regional police departments were obliged to provide monthly reports to the state police's anti-trafficking unit on any crimes potentially involving trafficking in persons, pimping, and other prostitution laws to enable specialists to screen the criminal cases for potential trafficking violations. The government participated in a wide range of anti-trafficking training activities in 2010. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs provided three separate trainings for its consular officials and representatives of foreign missions in November and May on identification of trafficking victims. The government of Latvia collaborated with law enforcement officials in several countries, including Germany, Greece, Italy, and the United Kingdom, on anti-trafficking investigations.
The government sustained its victim protection efforts. The Ministry of Welfare provided approximately $70,000 to a designated NGO to provide comprehensive services for victims of trafficking, in contrast to approximately $78,000 provided in 2009. Each trafficking victim could receive up to six months of rehabilitative care, including psychological care, medical aid, legal representation, and housing, if necessary. The government certified nine new victims for the state-funded victim assistance program in 2010, in contrast to 10 new victims certified in 2009. Seven of the victims certified in 2009 continued receiving state-funded services in 2010. Local NGOs identified and assisted a further five victims of trafficking, none of whom participated in the state-funded program. The NGOs attributed the lack of participation in the government program to distrust of the police or concerns about confidentiality. Government officials also reported that many trafficking victims declined cooperation with criminal trafficking proceedings, in part because many individuals did not wish to identify themselves as trafficking victims. All victims certified were female, despite reports that Latvian men were subject to potential labor trafficking. This year, the government did not identify either foreign or domestic victims within Latvia. The government implemented a panel system of certifying victims of trafficking, including psychologist and NGO participation. Nevertheless, the Latvian government faced challenges in providing state-funded assistance, including for repatriation, to potential victims identified outside of Latvia. The Government of Latvia had no formal government-wide system to report suspected victims identified by Latvian government actors, both domestically and abroad, to ensure continuity of their care. The Government of Latvia adopted flexible efforts to protect victims during trial, by enabling some substitutes for testimony in cases of trauma, although implementation of these procedures remained somewhat inconsistent. There were no reports that identified victims were penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being trafficked during the reporting period.
The Latvian government demonstrated clear improvement in its prevention efforts in 2010, particularly by enhancing intra-governmental cooperation and leadership on trafficking in persons. In March 2010, the government launched a new working group on trafficking in persons, headed by the national anti-trafficking coordinator at the Ministry of Interior. The working group designated an official to improve the Latvian government's labor trafficking response, to develop victim identification criteria for labor trafficking, and to enhance intra-governmental communication on labor trafficking. NGOs reported, however, that the government's system of coordination needed to be formalized and publicized so that it was clear to all actors which agencies were responsible for anti-trafficking activities and victim identification. The Government of Latvia began participation in an EU project on human trafficking risk assessments for women in prostitution, analyzing risk factors for potential victims of trafficking. In January 2011, it began a separate project involving the use of innovative software to access extensive information about victims in criminal cases. In March 2011, the Latvian government released a public report on the implementation of its national action plan, describing its anti-trafficking activities and publishing its data on prosecution and victim protection. In 2010, the Ministry of Education provided trafficking awareness training to 215 school teachers. The Government of Latvia also supported a campaign to raise awareness about the vulnerabilities to human trafficking inherent in brokered marriages abroad, which put women at risk for forced prostitution and other forms of exploitation. The government continued to maintain various hotlines for the exchange of trafficking information with the general public, but it did not have a centralized trafficking hotline. Despite these prevention efforts, there were anecdotal reports that there was low public awareness or minimal public disapproval of trafficking, particularly following the economic crisis.