By Karine Kalantarian
The Armenian authorities have stepped up the prosecution of individuals involved in human trafficking and will soon adopt a new three-year plan of actions against the illegal practice, officials said on Wednesday.
A similar program was already launched in 2004 and supposedly completed at the end of last year.
The Armenian government began tackling the problem under pressure from the United States which has repeatedly described Armenia has a major source of illegal transport of women for sexual exploitation abroad. But despite its efforts, Armenia remains on a special “watch list” of nations which the U.S. State Department says are not doing enough to combat trafficking.
Speaking at a seminar in Yerevan, senior Armenian officials insisted that the government has already made progress in reducing the scale of the practice. Deputy Foreign Minister Armen Bayburtian said it is currently discussing and will approve the new anti-trafficking program later this month.
According to Deputy Prosecutor-General Mnatsakan Sargsian, the number of trafficking-related criminal cases more than doubled to 32 between 2004 and 2006. He said law-enforcement bodies opened 20 such cases in the first half of this year.
Sargsian did not specify the number of individuals imprisoned or fined for such crimes.
In an annual global report on human trafficking released last year, the State Department said that the Armenian authorities “failed to impose significant penalties for convicted traffickers” and that only a handful of them ended up in jail. Report also pointed to an independent journalistic investigation that implicated a member of a special anti-trafficking unit at the Prosecutor-General’s Office in extorting bribes from Armenian pimps and prostitutes operating in the United Arab Emirates.
The Prosecutor-General’s Office said earlier in 2006 that it has investigated the allegations and found them baseless.
Dzyunik Aghajanian, another senior Foreign Ministry official attending the seminar, said Washington exaggerates the seriousness of the problem in Armenia for political reasons. “We really have [trafficking-related] problems in terms of public awareness and in relation to the law-enforcement and judicial systems,” she said. “But they are not so serious as to justify our classification [by the State Department.] Very often such classifications have a certain political subtext.”
Bayburtian, for his part, claimed that the U.S. and other Western donors are not always helping Armenia to fight against local prostitution rings. “We see numerous duplications and other forced actions that do not take into sufficient consideration the country’s priorities. This somewhat hinders the effectiveness of our efforts both at the local and international levels,” he said without elaborating.