[MIGS, Nicosia, 22 June 2012] The Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies (MIGS), member of the European Women’s Lobby, expresses its disappointment that, for the second consecutive year, Cyprus has been placed on the Tier 2 Watch List by the US State Department, according to its 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report. Countries placed on the Tier 2 Watch List - one of four tiers, Tier 3 being the lowest ranking – are those that do not fully comply with the minimum standards to eliminate trafficking in human beings as set out in the United States ‘Trafficking Victims Protection Act 2000’.
Although there have been increasing efforts to combat trafficking in human beings in Cyprus, these do not seem to be enough to effectively limit the phenomenon. The main findings of the report concern the failure of the Cypriot government to prosecute and ultimately convict traffickers. In 2011, 18 cases were investigated, a decrease from 29 cases in 2010, and while convictions were secured in some cases these were for other crimes such as rape, kidnapping etc., and received sentences far below those prescribed in the Trafficking Law 87 (I) of 2007. The leniency of sentences for trafficking crimes sends out a message that trafficking is an incredibly profitable crime that carries little risk, since traffickers can in effect, ‘get away’ with a fine or a few months imprisonment (if ever convicted).
Another significant finding of the report is that ex officio / preventive police investigations by the police as a precautionary and early detection measure have drastically reduced. There also seems to be a decrease in police investigations in sectors considered high risk such as, for example, agriculture and domestic work, that would ensure the timely identification of potential victims. MIGS has repeatedly emphasized the importance of preventative investigation, as prevention should not only consist of awareness raising seminars and campaigns (although also important) but measures that are pro-active rather than reactive action and coordinated approaches by all relevant stakeholders that are involved in the identification of victims.
The decrease in the number of identified victims of trafficking seems to be directly related to the lack of proactive investigation measures as well as the lack of systematic training of front-line officers that come into contact with potential victims. In terms of victim protection measures, questions are raised as to the quality of care provided by the state shelter for victims of trafficking and the lack of appropriate psychosocial support programmes.
The above findings concur with those identified in the 2011 report by the Council of Europe Expert Group GRETA that makes similar observations. The most important observation by GRETA concerns the definition of ‘victim of trafficking’ in the given to the victim of trafficking in the Trafficking Law 87 (I) of 2007. According to GRETA, the definition provided in the Cyprus legal framework is incompatible with that of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, which could hinder efforts to effectively identify victims.
The Cyprus government is therefore called upon to step up its efforts to effectively prevent and combat trafficking and specifically to adopt, without delay, the recommendations made by GRETA in its 2011 report, to effectively transpose the new EU Directive on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings by 2013, and to fully utilize the newly adopted European Strategy for Eliminating Trafficking in Persons 2012-2016. The Cyprus government has all the necessary tools be they legislative or otherwise that at its disposal, all of which highlight the importance of incorporating a gender perspective in all actions to combat trafficking, as well as the initiative of public dialogue on measures to reduce demand for trafficking, including sexual exploitation, which is widely acknowledged as a root cause. It is, therefore, a matter of sufficient political will and concerted action and cooperation among all relevant stakeholders that will bring substantive results in the fight against trafficking in human beings.