The number of individuals prosecuted and imprisoned on human trafficking charges in Armenia has almost tripled in 2009, according to the national police.
The latest police data also show the number of persons officially identified as trafficking victims nearly doubling to 60 in the course of the year. Twenty-two of them were referred to rehabilitation centers run by two non-governmental organizations. The vast majority of victims are Armenian women who were transported abroad and the United Arab Emirates in particular for sexual exploitation.
A brief report posted on the police website this week said 11 individuals were convicted of organizing the illegal practice and sentenced to between 3 and 13 years. A police official told RFE/RL that none of the sentences was suspended. Only four persons received trafficking-related jail terms, ranging from 2 to 7.5 years, in 2008.
The police presented the sharp increase as proof of its “serious work” aimed at eliminating cross-border transport and illegal exploitation of human beings from Armenia. It also noted that 119 police officers participated in training courses aimed at deepening their understanding of the problem in 2009.
The U.S. State Department acknowledged those efforts in June when it removed Armenia from a “watch list” of countries which it believes are not doing enough to combat human trafficking and aid its victims. “The Government of Armenia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so,” the department said in its 2009 Trafficking in Persons report.
The Armenian government has scrambled to get the country out of the U.S. blacklist with a range of legislative and administrative measures. The government approved its second anti-trafficking program in late 2007 and upgraded the status of an inter-agency government council coordinating its implementation a year later.
The authorities in Yerevan have also substantially toughened punishment for human trafficking and cracked down on local prostitution rings. The number of relevant criminal cases opened by the police has risen in recent years.
The police statement indicated that the government will soon propose more trafficking-related amendments in the Armenian Criminal Code. It gave no details, though.