Conviction of Greece for slavery! Three Russian victims of trafficking were forced to work as prostitutes. The inadequate legal framework has led to the termination of the proceedings and impunity of the perpetrators!
Τ.Ι. and others v. Greece 18.07.2019 (no. 40311/10)
Prostitutes and a ban on slavery and forced labor. Three Russian women claimed to have been victims of trafficking and even forced to work as prostitutes in Greece. They accused civil servants of participating in human trafficking networks, however, until the preliminary investigation, the offenses of forgery, use of false documents and trafficking, were deleted. The Court considered that the legal framework governing the procedure was not effective and adequate, as it could neither punish traffickers nor ensure effective prevention of trafficking of human beings. Furthermore, the competent authorities had not considered the case with the level of diligence required by the ECHR. Infringement of Article 4 of the ECHR.
The three applicants are Russian nationals who were born in 1978, 1979 and 1981.
Between June and October 2003 they arrived in Greece after obtaining visas through the Consulate
General of Greece in Moscow. They alleged that employees of the consulate had been bribed by
Russian traffickers and had issued visas enabling them to be brought to Greece for the purposes of
sexual exploitation. The three applicants were recognised as “victims of human trafficking” and the
authorities instituted two sets of criminal proceedings against the persons suspected of exploiting
them. Proceedings were also started in relation to the issuing of the visas.
In September 2003 one of the applicants was arrested by the police for prostitution. She stated that
she had been forced to work as a prostitute. The following month, proceedings were brought against
three individuals. In June 2011 the Thessaloniki Court of Appeal sentenced two of them to an
unsuspended term of five years and ten months’ imprisonment for criminal conspiracy, living on the
earnings of prostitution and human trafficking. They were also ordered to pay 30 euros (EUR) to the
applicant. The third individual was acquitted.
In December 2003 the other two applicants reported to the security directorate of the Ermoupoli
police, complaining that they were victims of human trafficking. An investigation was opened. The
applicants identified three individuals as the perpetrators and criminal proceedings were brought
against them. In March 2010 the Athens Criminal Court sentenced two individuals to prison terms
for, among other offences, forgery, use of forged documents and falsification of certificates. The
sentences were commuted to pecuniary penalties of EUR 10 for each day’s detention. Two other
persons were acquitted of the same charges. In March 2013 the Athens Criminal Court of Appeal
acquitted two individuals who had been prosecuted for criminal organisation and human trafficking.
In May 2005 the applicants applied to the public prosecutor at the criminal court responsible for
matters relating to human trafficking, stating that the documents used to obtain the visas had
contained false information. They accused employees of the consulate and the companies
concerned of facilitating their transfer to Greece. Proceedings were started relating to the issuing of
the visas. In particular, criminal proceedings were brought against several individuals, including
three consular employees, for human trafficking. However, in February 2016 the Indictments
Division of the Criminal Court terminated the proceedings, ruling that prosecution of the offences of
human trafficking allegedly committed by two individuals was time-barred. The Indictments Division
also noted that there was no substantial evidence that the offences of which a further individual was
accused had been committed.
THE DECISION OF THE COURT
Article 4 (prohibition of slavery and forced labour)
Regarding the existence of an appropriate legal and regulatory framework, the Court observed
that there had been some shortcomings in the applicable legislation prior to the entry into force of
Law no. 3064/2002 on 15 October 2002.
The Court noted in particular that, in the context of the proceedings concerning the issuing of the
visas to the applicants, the domestic courts had been obliged to apply Article 351 of the Criminal
Code prior to the amendments made in 2002, and that the applicable legislation had been
inadequate in some respects. The Greek Criminal Code had prohibited forced prostitution and
classified it as a lesser indictable offence, punishable by a prison term of between one and three
years. Human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation had not constituted a separate
criminal offence. Hence, the fact that the alleged acts of human trafficking constituted lesser
indictable offences at the material time had led the Indictments Division of the Athens Criminal
Court to terminate the proceedings against two of the accused as being time-barred. Accordingly,
the Court was unable to conclude that the legal framework governing those proceedings had been
effective and sufficient either to punish the traffickers or to ensure effective prevention of human
trafficking. There had therefore been a violation of Article 4 on that account.
Nevertheless, the Court noted that since 15 October 2002 the Greek Criminal Code had expressly
prohibited trafficking for sexual purposes. Several amendments had been made to the Criminal Code
under Law no. 3064/2002 in order to impose stiffer penalties for human trafficking, which was
henceforth classified as a serious crime, and the legislation also provided for specific measures to
protect the victims of such trafficking.
As to the operational measures taken to protect the applicants, the Court noted that the
authorities had not failed to take operational measures apt to protect the applicants as victims of
human trafficking. Among other things, the applicants had been recognised as victims of human
trafficking shortly after the authorities had been alerted to their situation, and the enforcement of
the orders for their expulsion had been suspended.
Regarding the effectiveness of the police investigations and the judicial proceedings concerning
the alleged exploitation, in response to the applicants’ complaints, the Court noted that the
criminal proceedings had lasted for seven years and nine months in the case of one of the
applicants. The authorities had therefore not dealt with the case with the requisite level of diligence.
As to the other two applicants, the Court observed that the criminal proceedings had lasted for nine
years and three months with regard to two of the accused. Furthermore, the proceedings
concerning a third individual were still suspended 15 years after the complaint had been made.
These two applicants had therefore not had the benefit of an effective investigation and there had
thus been a violation of the procedural aspect of Article 4.
As to the effectiveness of the proceedings concerning the issuing of the visas, the Court considered
that an effective investigation should have been conducted to ascertain whether the competent
authorities had subjected the applicants’ applications to close scrutiny before issuing the visas. Given
the seriousness of the applicants’ allegations and the fact that they had accused public officials of
involvement in human-trafficking networks, the authorities had been under a duty to act with
special diligence in order to verify that the acts in question were subjected to detailed scrutiny and
thus to dispel the doubts as to the probity of the public officials. However, owing to certain
shortcomings that had not been the case.
In particular, an investigation had been ordered on 14 February 2006 although the facts had been
drawn to the attention of the public prosecutor responsible for matters relating to human trafficking
on 26 May 2005. Furthermore, the security directorate of the Athens police had forwarded the case
file to the competent prosecutor approximately two years and seven months after receiving it, and
the preliminary investigation stage had lasted for over three years.
By the time the preliminary investigation had been concluded, prosecution of the offences
concerning forgery and the use of forged documents had already become time-barred. The same
was true of the acts of human trafficking with which two individuals had been charged, which were
declared time-barred in February 2016 (at the time of the events and prior to the entry into force of
Law no. 3064/2002, human trafficking had been a lesser indictable offence to which a shorter
limitation period applied). Lastly, attempts to serve summonses on the applicants, who had applied
to join the proceedings as civil parties, had failed; the applicants had given their home address but
no attempt had been made to trace them at that address.
Consequently, the Court held that the competent authorities had not dealt with the case with the
level of diligence required by Article 4 of the Convention and that the applicants had not been
involved in the investigation to the extent required under the procedural limb of that provision.
Just satisfaction (Article 41)
The Court held that Greece was to pay the applicants 15,000 euros (EUR) each in respect of
non-pecuniary damage and EUR 3,000 jointly in respect of costs and expenses(echrcaselaw.com).