The United States praised significant progress in the Armenian authorities’ fight against human tracking, upgrading Armenia’s status in an annual global report presented by Secretary of State John Kerry late on Wednesday.
Armenia was for the first time included on the “Tier 1” list of countries which the U.S. State Department believes fully comply with “the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”
“The government investigated and prosecuted more suspected traffickers [in 2012] than during the previous year and prosecuted a case of domestic forced child begging,” read the State Department report. “The government also continued convicting criminals for subjecting Armenians to forced prostitution within the country.”
According to John Heffern, the U.S. ambassador in Yerevan, the status upgrade means Armenia is “now considered among the world’s most successful countries in confronting this international scourge.” “I commend Armenia’s aggressive pursuit of [trafficking] offenders and encourage its continued efforts to stop them,” Heffern said in his video blog.
The Armenian government and law-enforcement bodies have cracked down the illegal practice in recent years under strong pressure from the U.S. A wide range of measures taken by them have included a substantial toughening of punishment for human trafficking.
The State Department acknowledged those efforts in 2009 when it removed Armenia from a “watch list” of nations which are not doing enough to combat cross-border transport and illegal exploitation of human beings. Still, the department kept the country on “Tier 2” until its latest report.
“The government investigated 22 trafficking cases in 2012, compared with 17 in 2011, and prosecuted 18 defendants for trafficking offenses -- including one case of child forced begging -- compared with prosecutions against 15 alleged traffickers in 2011,” says the report. “Eight traffickers were convicted, including one for transnational labor, compared to 13 convictions in 2011. All eight offenders convicted in 2012 received sentences ranging from four to 11 years’ imprisonment.”
The report also praises the authorities in Yerevan for closely cooperating with civil society groups, supporting a shelter for trafficking victims and making “strong anti-trafficking prevention efforts.” It at the same time expresses concern at the fact that the number of such victims officially identified by the government continued to decrease in 2012 because of flawed identification procedures.