Instances of human trafficking in Armenia have fallen considerably since the country was removed from a U.S. State Department blacklist two years ago, a senior police official said on Friday.
“At least, the number of those traditional cases has decreased,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Tigran Petrosian, head of an anti-trafficking unit at the Armenian police. “That is, when dozens of women used to be transported abroad, notably to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Turkey, and subjected to exploitation there.”
“The most recent incidents are mainly cases of exploitation involving one or two victims. I think the main reason for that is our strict and adequate enforcement of laws,” he told a news conference.
According to police data released by Petrosian, Armenian courts sentenced four persons to an average of seven years in prison on trafficking-related charges in the first half of this year.
The police opened ten such criminal cases in the same period. Eight of them involved alleged sexual exploitation of Armenian women in Armenia and the UAE.
The Armenian government and law-enforcement bodies have significantly toughened their fight against the illegal practice in recent years not least because of strong pressure from the United States. A wide range of measures taken by them has included a substantial toughening of punishment for human trafficking and a crackdown on local prostitution rings.
The U.S. State Department acknowledged those efforts in June 2009 when it removed Armenia from a “watch list” of countries which it believes are not doing enough to combat cross-border transport and illegal exploitation of human beings.
“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 reiterated in an annual report on global trafficking released late last month.
The report praised Yerevan for further toughening anti-trafficking sanctions in March and partly financing a non-governmental shelter for women forced into sex trade. “The government continued to ensure that all convicted traffickers were appropriately sentenced and that those sentences were enforced,” it said, noting that five convicted traffickers were sentenced to between three and nine years last year.
The State Department at the same time expressed concern about a “precipitous drop” in the number of persons officially identified as trafficking victims in 2010. “The government officially identified 19 new sex trafficking victims in 2010 and referred 12 of them to NGOs for assistance, compared with 60 victims of trafficking identified and 22 referred to NGOs in 2009,” it said.
The report also called for “more vigorous efforts” to investigate instances of forced labor. The Armenian police have prosecuted one such case this year.
Petrosian described the U.S. report as “certainly positive and helpful” for Armenia. “I think that if we were to evaluate our work, we would find more shortcomings than the State Department did in its report,” he said. “That report is based on statements made by us and our statistics.”