2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Latvia
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||19 June 2012|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Latvia, 19 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fe30cb641.html [accessed 31 August 2014]|
LATVIA (Tier 2)
Latvia is a source and destination country for women subjected to sex trafficking and 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, Cyprus, Greece, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Latvian men and women have been subjected to conditions of forced labor in the United Kingdom and Italy, and there were reports that Latvian men may have been subjected to conditions of forced labor in Sweden. Latvian women in brokered marriages in Western Europe, particularly Ireland, were vulnerable to domestic servitude and sex trafficking. Adult Latvian women are subject to internal sex trafficking. 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. The government continued to improve its anti-trafficking efforts, including by developing criteria for the identification of labor trafficking victims, by improving mechanisms to ensure that the foreign ministry referred trafficking victims to state-funded care, and by strengthening efforts to address sham marriages, which create a vulnerability to trafficking. The Latvian anti-trafficking working group provided strong leadership of the government's anti-trafficking policy and enhanced transparency of the government's efforts through reporting. The government increased its funding for NGO-provided victim assistance. The government investigated and prosecuted several former anti-trafficking police officers for corruption. Nevertheless, anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts faltered. Even though NGOs identified domestic victims of trafficking, law enforcement authorities did not identify similar cases. The number of trafficking prosecutions and convictions, as well as the length of sentences in trafficking cases, all declined. Latvian authorities continued to prosecute cases under a non-trafficking statute (Section 165-1 of the Latvian Criminal Law) generally through the use of undercover officers, leading to concerns that the Latvian law enforcement efforts against the trafficking cases involving actual victims were low. Only two out of 11 convicted trafficking offenders were sentenced to any time in prison.
Recommendations for Latvia: Increase efforts to identify victims, particularly victims of labor trafficking and Latvian victims exploited within the country; vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict trafficking cases; use the trafficking statute (Section 154-1 of the Latvian Criminal Law) to prosecute trafficking cases involving Latvian victims exploited abroad and domestically; explore ways to collaborate more closely with other European counterparts so that Latvia is empowered to better protect Latvian trafficking victims abroad and to prosecute their recruiters; impose criminal penalties on convicted trafficking offenders commensurate with the gravity of the crime committed; implement new labor trafficking identification guidelines; implement the recently designed repatriation mechanism to make state-funded trafficking victim assistance more accessible; 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; update key outreach efforts, such as the government's centralized anti-trafficking website; continue efforts to systematically monitor trafficking trends; and increase efforts to raise awareness about both sex and labor trafficking.
The Latvian government demonstrated decreased law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking in persons. Although the government instituted new procedures for conducting trafficking investigations and pursued corruption cases, its overall prosecution and conviction statistics decreased in 2011, resulting in fewer trafficking offenders receiving time in prison for their crimes. Latvia prohibits all forms of trafficking through Section 154-1 of its criminal law, which prescribe penalties ranging from a fine 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 prohibiting the transfer of individuals for the purpose of sexual exploitation to investigate and prosecute most trafficking cases during the reporting period. The Government of Latvia claimed that this statute is easier for prosecutors to apply than Section 154-1 because the elements of force, fraud, or coercion are not required in prosecuting an offense under Section 165-1. Most of these cases involved the use of undercover officers posing as potential trafficking victims. While the Latvian government portrayed these cases, to some degree, as "prevention" of trafficking, the targeting of cases involving undercover officers rather than real trafficking victims gave rise to concerns that the Latvian government did not take sufficient law enforcement action against traffickers exploiting actual victims in Latvia. Both the police and the prosecutors' offices have specialized anti-trafficking units. Regional police inspectors trained local officers on anti-trafficking measures. The number of trafficking cases the government investigated and prosecuted decreased in 2011, although the number of suspected offenders investigated remained approximately level. The government reported investigating 34 suspected offenders in 21 new sex trafficking cases, in contrast to 38 offenders in 31 cases investigated in 2010. Although the Government of Latvia did not investigate new labor trafficking cases, it continued an investigation in an older labor trafficking case and assisted foreign counterparts in the investigation of new cases. Latvian authorities prosecuted 27 suspected sex trafficking offenders in 2011, a decrease from 39 offenders prosecuted in 2010, but level with the 26 suspected offenders prosecuted in 2009. In 2011, 11 trafficking offenders received final convictions from the Courts of First Instance, a 48 percent decrease from the 21 who received final convictions from these courts in 2010. These figures do not include appealed convictions. Also, accountability for trafficking crimes remained a problem. Only two of the 11 convicted trafficking offenders were sentenced to time in prison, with each receiving sentences between one and three years' imprisonment. In 2010, five out of 21 convicted offenders were sentenced to prison terms. To enable specialists in the state police's anti-trafficking unit to screen criminal cases for potential trafficking violations, the Latvian regional police departments continued to provide monthly reports on crimes potentially involving trafficking in persons, pimping, and other prostitution offenses. However, in light of the reduced identification of trafficking cases, it was unclear whether the screening mechanism was effective. Latvian government officials trained law enforcement colleagues on identifying human trafficking. In January 2012, the government finalized official guidelines on the identification of labor trafficking victims, providing guidance to police and the labor inspectorate on how to differentiate labor exploitation and trafficking. The Government of Latvia collaborated with law enforcement officials in several countries, including Sweden, Germany, and the United Kingdom, on anti-trafficking investigations.
The Latvian police investigated a number of trafficking-related corruption cases this year. Latvian prosecutors investigated two former anti-trafficking police officers on corruption charges and indicted one. In the fall of 2011, Latvian state television documented a case in which seven of fifteen defendants charged with pimping had been donors to two influential political parties. The Latvian Corruption Preventing and Combating Bureau investigated these suspected trafficking-related corruption cases.
The Latvian government improved its victim protection efforts over the previous reporting period. In addition to increasing victim protection funding, the Government of Latvia identified and assisted a greater number of victims of more diverse forms of trafficking and designed an improved mechanism to ensure that victims of trafficking identified abroad are referred to state-funded assistance in Latvia. For 2012, the Ministry of Welfare obligated the equivalent of approximately $78,000 to a designated NGO to provide comprehensive services for victims of trafficking, an increase from the equivalent of approximately $58,000 provided in 2011 and the equivalent of $70,000 provided in 2010. The government offered each trafficking victim up to 6 months of rehabilitative care, including psychological assistance, medical aid, legal representation, housing, and reintegration services. While the government's allocation of increased funding in response to victim needs reflected a significant commitment, NGOs observed that the state-designed assistance mechanism was unduly bureaucratic; the assistance tender for 2011 was initially fixed to fund the care of seven victims, even though the number of victims from Latvia generally exceeded seven per year. The government certified 11 new victims for the state-funded victim assistance program in 2011, in contrast to nine new victims certified in 2010. Four victims certified in previous years also continued to receive trafficking victim services in 2011. All victims who received services were of Latvian origin. In contrast to prior years, two male labor trafficking victims received state-funded trafficking victim services. The Ministry of Interior reported that the police identified 29 victims of trafficking who agreed to assist in investigation procedures as witnesses but refused victim status and services because they did not consider themselves to be victims of a crime. Local NGOs identified and assisted an additional four victims of sex and labor trafficking, none of whom participated in the state-funded program. NGOs attributed the lack of participation in the government program to distrust of the police or concerns about confidentiality. The government did not identify either foreign or domestic victims within Latvia, although three of the victims identified by NGOs were victims of domestic sex trafficking. The Latvian government faced challenges in providing repatriation assistance to potential victims identified outside Latvia. In response, government agencies have proposed a mechanism for issuing repatriation loans to Latvians abroad. If approved, certified trafficking victims will not be required to repay those loans. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) instituted a procedure to track potential trafficking victims identified abroad and to refer them to care in Latvia. The MFA reported a total of 101 potential trafficking instances identified by Latvian diplomats in Ireland, Germany, the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Italy, and Sweden in 2011 as a result of this new monitoring. The government employed some efforts to protect victims during trial, including through allowing written substitutes for victim testimony in cases of trauma and allowing victims to be absent from trial. There were no reports that identified victims were penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being trafficked.
The Latvian government demonstrated strong prevention efforts in 2011, displaying creative and diverse measures to prevent trafficking. The anti-trafficking working group continued to meet to coordinate the government's anti-trafficking activities. It incorporated new civil society members, such as the Free Trade Union Confederation, to join its ranks. The Latvian Ministry of Education and Science trained 55 teachers on trafficking in persons and integrated trafficking questions into a mandatory test for elementary school students. The Riga City local government also spent the equivalent of approximately $20,000 for anti-trafficking efforts, such as distributing an anti-trafficking brochure, conducting trainings for 60 individuals in the Riga local government, and conducting outreach to school children on trafficking. The Government of Latvia collaborated with an NGO to deliver anti-trafficking messages at libraries throughout Latvia; 237 librarians and 118 young people from Latvia participated in the workshops. The Latvian government worked to reduce the demand for commercial sex by producing and publicizing an anti-trafficking video titled Reestablish Values in Your Life. The Latvian 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. It was not clear that the various government hotlines were effective in publicizing their anti-trafficking role. Whereas NGOs that do not receive state funding for anti-trafficking prevention efforts received more than 90 telephone inquiries on trafficking-related matters, the government reported only three cases in which trafficking victims called the government hotlines for assistance. In 2011, officials announced that the number of sham marriages between Latvian citizens and citizens of third countries in Ireland decreased by half; sham marriages continued to render some women highly vulnerable to trafficking. The MFA attributed the decrease to the government's recently improved marriage registration procedures. Despite these prevention efforts, there were anecdotal reports that there was low public awareness or minimal public disapproval of trafficking.