Council of Europe publishes monitoring reports

In June, the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) published the first series of reports in the third monitoring round on Austria, the Slovak Republic and Cyprus. The reports provide an analysis of access to justice and effective remedies for victims of trafficking and examine progress in the implementation of previous GRETA recommendations.

Whilst progress has been noted for all three countries, GRETA calls for more action from the respective governments. Austria has taken steps to support trafficked persons including providing access to compensation and training of officials on the procedures for access to compensation. However, in practice, being able to access compensation does not seem possible. In the Slovak Republic, the information provided to victims appears to be formalistic without verifying whether the victim understands their rights and the procedures. The Slovak Republic has also set up a State compensation scheme, however, to date, only one victim of human trafficking has received state compensation, and almost no victims of human trafficking have been paid compensation by perpetrators. In Cyprus, the obligation to provide information on victims’ rights is not always respected. In addition, no legal aid has been provided to victims of trafficking, and thus far only two applications for legal aid to claim compensation has been approved. In addition, the creation of a victim’s support fund has been delayed.

In December, the Committee of the Parties to the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings adopted recommendations concerning AlbaniaCroatia and the Republic of Moldova, based on GRETA’s third round evaluation reports and considered the reports of AndorraEstoniaFinland, GermanyHungaryLithuania and Switzerland concerning the actual implementation of previous recommendations issued to these countries.

In regard to Albania, there was progress made including measures taken to bring about laws that strengthen the rights of victims of human trafficking. The report highlighted the need to facilitate access to justice for victims of human trafficking by ensuring they receive access to legal assistance and legal aid as well as ensuring training to lawyers and judiciary to ensure there is knowledge on access to justice and compensation mechanisms. For Croatia, the report acknowledged the progress made to ensure child-sensitive procedures for obtaining access to justice and remedies. The report focused on access to compensation, including the need for access to free legal aid, collection of evidence on the financial gain from the exploitation of the victim and financial loss for the victim, capacity building for legal practitioners and the judiciary. The Moldovian report also acknowledged the progress made in particular the specialisation of judges to deal with human trafficking cases. It recommended to ensure access to justice and compensation, a number of similar recommendations such as free legal aid and assistance, proper collection of evidence, capacity building of judiciary and legal practitioners, removal of administrative costs for victims of trafficking to enforce compensation decisions by the courts, enabling victims to file a claim through civil proceedings when there is no criminal conviction.

In respect to the implementation reports, GRETA called on Estonia to ensure that the Estonian authorities ensure that victims of trafficking are informed of their right to compensation in a language they understand, access to legal aid, capacity building of the judiciary and legal officials, as well as inviting the authorities to set up a system recording compensation claims and using the assets confiscated from perpetrators to pay for compensation. For Finland, there were no amendments to the law of access to free legal aid. GRETA had requested that all victims of human trafficking are able to access free legal aid, however, Finland provides legal aid based on the financial situation.

In Germany, the law on compensation was changed in 2019 and will enter into force in 2024. This change means state compensation will be available to those who have experienced both physical and psychological violence. From 2021, there will be access to emergency aid and victims of violence are now treated equally regardless of nationality or residence status. Compensation is required in full by the offender, and if there is unlawful imprisonment and/or bodily injury, compensation can be awarded for pain and suffering. There are regular training opportunities available for judges and public prosecutors on compensation. For Lithuania, the call for effective implementation of the compensation scheme is answered by changes to the law. There is also measures to strengthen the expertise and experience of state labour inspectors to ensure access to justice and compensation.

The reports for Andorra and Switzerland are only available in French.