Prosecutor’s Action a “Tremendous Setback for Counter-Trafficking Efforts”
NOTE TO EDITORS: Human trafficking – sometimes called trafficking in persons – involves buying, selling, and transporting human beings into the commercial sex industry, forced labor or other slavery-like conditions.
WASHINGTON – United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today expressed outrage that criminal charges were dropped against four men in Montenegro, including a deputy state prosecutor, in a human trafficking case in which a Moldovan woman was raped, tortured and severely beaten for more than three years while enslaved in prostitution.
The prosecutor dropped the charges in a case many believe could have exposed corrupt, high-level government officials’ involvement in human trafficking. Co-Chairman Smith indicated that an attempted cover-up may negatively affect Montenegro’s standing if the Government’s respect for the rule of law is deficient.
“A woman was physically brutalized and emotionally traumatized for the profit and gain of criminal thugs,” said Smith. “She will suffer for the rest of her life. That no one will be held accountable for this barbarity is outrageous. The municipal court prosecutor’s decision to drop all charges in this case is a clear denial of justice.”
The trafficking victim, known publicly as S.C., was allegedly held against her will for more than three years in various locations throughout Serbia and Montenegro. She was forced to perform sexual and other services for a multitude of clients, including her traffickers. While captive, S.C. was beaten, burned, drugged, raped and sexually abused. After attempting several times to escape from her traffickers, S.C. managed to obtain refuge in a safe house in October 2002.
The prosecutor claims a lack of evidence, conflicting statements and other problems necessitated dropping the charges. Prosecuting human trafficking cases is difficult anywhere, given the level to which criminals will stoop to cover their crimes. But, instead of allowing this case to go to trial where the evidence could be examined by a court of law, Montenegrin officials contributed to verbal attacks against the victim through the press and suggested the case was fabricated for political purposes. Now these same officials appear content to see the case disappear.
“The manner in which this was handled makes me highly suspicious that the authorities ever intended for the case to see the light of day,” Smith said. “Montenegro’s image abroad suffers if the handling of this case reveals a lack of respect for the rule of law among government officials.”
Despite poor physical health and the emotional trauma of being trafficked, the victim cooperated with police and investigators, placing herself and her family at risk. “The failure of the judiciary to conduct an open, transparent, and fair trial is a tremendous setback for counter-trafficking efforts in Montenegro and beyond,” Smith said. “This decision could discourage other trafficking victims from coming forward with information leading to the prosecution and conviction of other human traffickers,” stated Smith.