European Network Against Trafficking in Human Beings

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Cyprus Found Guilty for Failing to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings, ECHR Judgment

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Cyprus Found Guilty for Failing to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings, ECHR Judgment
Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies (MIGS)
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International Law, Media/News,
Criminal justice, Judicial cooperation; Victim-centred approach, National anti-trafficking measures; Criminalisation, Punishment, Crime prevention;
In an unprecedented judgment on trafficking in human beings, on 7 January 2010, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found the Republic of Cyprus guilty on multiple counts, in the case of Rantsev v. Cyprus and Russia for failing to protect Oxana Rantseva, a Russian national who fell to her death in March 2001 under mysterious circumstances.

Oxana Rantseva was in Cyprus on an "artiste visa" to work in a local cabaret. The issuing of special ‘artiste' or ‘entertainment' visas was for many years directly related to trafficking in women for sexual exploitation with women being forced into prostitution by traffickers who fraudulently recruited victims for work as ‘entertainment' dancers in cabarets and nightclubs. Reports from the Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies (MIGS), as well as the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner and the U.S. State Department have repeatedly highlighted the role the cabaret industry and "artiste" visas play in trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation in Cyprus, by fueling demand for sexual services.  Within this context, the ECHR unanimously ruled that although trafficking in human beings is not explicitly mentioned in the ECHR, it falls within the scope of Article 4 on the prohibition of slavery, servitude, and forced labour. More significantly, it clarified states' positive obligations to prevent trafficking and protect victims.

The Court found that Cyprus had violated Article 4, firstly, for its failure to put in place an appropriate legal and administrative framework to combat trafficking as a result of the existing regime of "artiste visas", and, secondly, for the failure of the Cyprus Police to take appropriate measures to protect her, despite that fact that they had reason to suspect that she was a victim of trafficking. Furthermore, the court found that Cyprus had violated Oxana Rantseva's right to life under Article 2 of the ECHR, by holding her in custody without charge, placing her in the custody of her traffickers, and failing to to adequately investigate the circumstances of her death. Following a Ministerial Decision in November 2008, the Cyprus Minister of Interior announced the abolition of "artiste visas". However, despite this announcement, the renewal of such visas continued to take place at least until September 2009.

Despite our having welcomed the decision to introduce a more uniform visa policy for third-country nationals, MIGS has repeatedly stated that the decision fails to provide concrete solutions to the problem of trafficking in women for sexual exploitation. In MIGS's opinion, if the objective of Cyprus Government's is to combat human trafficking effectively, and trafficking in women in particular, the state must stop issuing visas to individuals - citizens of third countries - under any visa regime to work in establishments considered high risk for trafficking and sexual exploitation. Furthermore, in order to combat trafficking in women for sexual exploitation comprehensively, the Cyprus Government must formulate policies that take into account the continued operation of high risk establishments, the demand for sexual services, and, finally, the critical question of inequality between women and men.
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