By Ruzanna Stepanian
The U.S. Department of State has urged Armenia to show more consistency and commitment in its fight against human trafficking.
In its annual report published last week the U.S. Department of State has put Armenia on a “watch list” of states deemed to be of concern for trafficking.
The countries on the “watch list” that also includes Azerbaijan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Ukraine and Slovakia are not subject to sanctions unlike 14 countries – mainly from Asia and Africa – that could face sanctions as the worst offenders for failing to combat human trafficking.
In particular, the U.S. Department of State report reads: “Armenia is more a source than a transit country for trafficking. Women and girls from Armenia are mainly trafficked as sex slaves to the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.”
According to the U.N. data, more than a 1,000 women, most of whom are victims of trafficking, are exploited as prostitutes in the UAE and Turkey.”
The report says that although the Armenian government makes efforts to combat this phenomenon, it still does not achieve the results that may meet even the minimum requirements.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she hopes the report will result in increased efforts to stop the trafficking of people.
“We trust that this year’s report will raise international awareness of the crime of trafficking, and spur governments across the globe to take determined actions against it,” she said. “All states must work together to close down trafficking routes, prosecute and convict traffickers, and protect and reintegrate victims into society.”
Armenia appeared on the “watch list” because it failed to present proof last year of its commitment to combat human trafficking appropriately.
Despite the increasing number of trafficking-related cases examined by courts, punishments remain inappropriately mild and the size of fines low.
In particular, the report indicates that article 132 of the Criminal Code prohibits human trafficking and sets four to eight years in prison for this crime.
But the Armenian Government mainly applies article 262 that sets a milder punishment.
The State Department particularly points out that only one out of 16 cases examined by Armenian courts in 2004 resulted in the application of article 132, while article 262 was applied in the rest.
The usual jail terms in sentences passed in trafficking cases in Armenia are 6 months to 2 years, there are cases that are dismissed or in which the criminal gets away by paying a fine.
These punishments, says the report, are incommensurate with the gravity of the crime.
The report says that Prosecutor Office members criminally assisted people involved in trafficking and frontier guards accepted bribes to facilitate their movement.
The government failed to investigate and institute criminal cases against those officials involved in trafficking, says the report.
Investigative Journalists NGO head Edik Baghdasarian said in an RFE/RL interview that he possesses information reported by victims of trafficking themselves that some workers of the Prosecutor Office accepted bribes from pimps in Dubai.
In particular, Baghdasarian claims that Prosecutor’s office worker Arestakes Yeremian is involved in this business.
But Yeremian denied the accusations in a RFE/RL talk.
Chairman of the Intergovernmental Anti-Trafficking Commission Valery Mkrtumian admits that Armenia’s appearance on the “watch list” is a retrogression for the country.
Regarding the involvement of officials in this business, he said: “There are different sources. We can form a certain opinion based on information provided by NGOs or other organizations. But we do not know any name of an official involved or assisting in this crime.”