Prosecutors and investigators from Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway and Latvia shared their experience in bringing cases of human trafficking to court. The experts focussed on cases of berry pickers, cleaners, child labour and sham marriages.
The problems and lessons pointed out in addition to those highlighted by Blomqvist were:
- the attitude of authorities towards potential victims of human trafficking and an unwillingness or lack of the skills required to identify the problem;
- the definition of 'human trafficking': is it usury, taking advantage of vulnerable people, deceit, threatening, full control over the lives of the victims, tax fraud? How do you tell the difference between human trafficking and a labour dispute?
- the extremely vulnerable situation and inadequate self-expression of the victims. They are afraid of the authorities, feel ashamed and embarrassed, and lie because of it. Some are illiterate, uneducated, from different cultures. It is often easy for the defence to turn such circumstances against the victim and make them look untrustworthy;
- how do you bring middlemen and people who knowingly use the services of victims of human trafficking to justice?
Norwegian prosecutor Rudolf Christoffersen, who investigated the exploitation of Roma children from Romania and achieved a guilty verdict in court, emphasised that human traffickers use the Nordic countries, or the Baltic Sea region more broadly, as a single 'market' by moving from one country to another. That is why cooperation between authorities is extremely important. Eurojust and Europol also help.
Attention of media and politicians
A review of cases revealed that complicated laws and shortcomings have started to attract the attention of the media and politicians in addition to the judicial system. However, those who attended the seminar still felt that raising awareness requires more work.
Adviser at the Nordic Council of Ministers' Office in Estonia Merle Kuusk said that the justice ministers of the Nordic countries and Baltic States gave the fight against human trafficking as an important area of cooperation in August. Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers Dagfinn Høybråten said at a meeting of Nordic and Baltic Ministers of Justice that it was important to ask a question whether laws could be improved to ensure the rights of victims of human trafficking.
In October, the Nordic Ministers for Justice decided that they would like to initiate a three-year cross-sector cooperation programme in fighting human trafficking and to allocate DKK 750,000-800,000 for this purpose. The new programme would cover the areas of justice, the labour market, health and social affairs. The Baltic States and north-western Russia would also be involved.
This follow-up project of the Nordic Council of Ministers, which was launched in autumn 2013, is called 'Nordic – Baltic – North-West Russian Border Regional Cooperation Part II Combating Trafficking in Human Beings for Forced Labour, Children and Sexual Exploitation'. The opening event was held in Tallinn in April this year and the project continued in Stockholm on 12 & 13 November.
The next event will take place in Riga on 27 & 28 November and focus on the social consequences of the fight against human trafficking. The project will end with an expert conference in Vilnius in spring 2015.