By Emil Danielyan
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian set up a special government commission on Wednesday tasked with investigating allegations that Armenia is a major source of human trafficking in the region.
The move apparently came in response to U.S. claims that the Armenian government is not doing enough to prevent the forced transport of human beings across international borders. In a report issued last June, the U.S. State Department referred to Armenia as a "source country for women and girls trafficked to the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Russia, Greece and Germany for sexual exploitation."
"The Government of Armenia does not fully comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so," it concluded.
The commission formed by Markarian will "look into issues related" to human trafficking and "submit [relevant] proposals," the Armenian prime minister's office said in a statement. It comprises officials from several government agencies and will be headed by Ashot Kocharian, head of the Foreign Ministry's department on international organizations.
The commission's formation is the first official acknowledgement of the problem's existence. The U.S. report, which examined 89 countries, placed Armenia among the so-called "Tier 3" countries accused by the State Department of failing to take action against traffickers or to protect their victims. Five of the 19 blacklisted countries are located in the Gulf region, while three others -- Russia, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan -- in the former Soviet Union.
The report, issued annually, was prepared in response to a U.S. law approved in October 2000 to highlight the problem in which thousands of people are taken across international borders to work in sweatshops, construction sites, brothels and fields. The legislation calls for imposing economic sanctions in 2003 against countries that fail to take appropriate action.
"Given its limited resources, the [Armenian] government investigates only a small number of trafficking cases," the report said, adding that only three such cases were initiated last year. It did not give further details, saying only that Armenian courts are "lenient on traffickers and cases do not usually result in punishment of the exploiters."
The report at the same time noted that law-enforcement officials have not undergone specialized training to cope with the problem and "make efforts to cooperate with foreign counterparts."