No excuses, Srbia’s urgent response to the case of workers from Vietnam needed

No excuses, Srbia’s urgent response to the case of workers from Vietnam needed

Attorney at law Nina Nicovic and Andrijana Radoicic from NGO Atina both agree that there are elements of criminal act of human trafficking in the case of workers in Linglong factory in Zrenjanin. Nicovic has stated for N1 that the authorities have no excuse to fail to respond urgently and this investigate this case as a human trafficking, even if the labour inspection has been working on their part of mandate. She emphasizes that police and prosecution would have to respond immediately and start with preliminary investigation, or Serbia will breach laws and conventions that are legally binding. N1 speakers point out that, if covering up and relativization of this case continues, and Serbia does not follow up through the human trafficking proceedings, it might face long arm of the European Court for Human Rights.

According to the latest information, 90 Vietnamese workers have been relocated to Kastel Ecka for lodging. The workers have been transported in public transportation buses, convoyed by Chinese managers in Jeeps. Around one hundred of them have been accommodated in Zrenjanin industrial zone in decent barracks. This all would have never happened had it not been for media that initiated the reporting on poor living and working conditions they have been experiencing recently.

Nicovic stresses that the fact that we are talking about human trafficking victims and inhumane living conditions of the workers whose passports were confiscated and earnings haven’t been paid completely.  She said that or legislature envisages 3-12 years of imprisonment only according to the paragraph 1 of the Law, however, even more severe penalties are possible. State should, she adds, have to respond despite the fact that the ones who exploit use excuses that it was a pre-arranged agreement with the workers and that they had consented to all that they have been experiencing even prior to arriving in Serbia.  Our law, adds Nicovic, prescribes that this does not affect the fact that there is criminal offence of trafficking in human beings. “Prosecution and police should urgently initiate preliminary investigation and promptly conduct investigations”, she noted and added that the prosecutor can provide witness protection status to the workers so that they can speak up on what they have experienced without any fear.  

Andrijana Radoicic emphasizes that there are elements of human trafficking in this case, which is one of the examples of potential slavery that exists in this part of the Balkans and Europe, which is impermissible in 21st century.  

One who keeps personal identification documents for the purpose of forced labour is committing criminal offence of trafficking in human beings; our legislature enables conducting investigation and filing human trafficking criminal charges, Radoicic pointed out.

Nicovic emphasizes that there has to be a response to what had occurred prior to relocating the workers to more humane living conditions; moreover, the fact they have been relocated does not change the fact that there is criminal offence that happened beforehand.  

“Modern slavery in Serbia, it is unacceptable for the authorities not to respond.“

N1 speakers note it is impermissible not to have any response from prosecution and police that are not even visiting the site to conduct preliminary investigation.

They, however, respond that this does not strike them as a surprise as Serbia hasn’t been meeting minimum standards in combating trafficking in human beings since 2017, according to the State Department, and the European Commission keeps saying that this area requires more effort. What is more, Serbia signed European Convention on Human Rights in 2004.

Radoicic emphasizes that a criminal offence can’t be abolished due to the fact the workers have been relocated, and that it is unclear who did that for them, as well as whether the state has had a response to the case of potential trafficking in human beings. Besides that, she added, she doesn’t think Kaste Ecka is a specialized lodging for human trafficking victims.

She also indicates that the state should be held accountable for not having recognized what is going on, and it perhaps even has been covering up what the workers were putting up with; the state should take steps towards providing protection to the human trafficking victims and in accordance with that provide workers with the right to safe participation in the proceeding, to provide appropriate accommodation where they can have contact with their families, attorneys, as well as interpreters.

“That has not happened yet, and no steps wouldn’t have been taken had it not been for the activities of the civil society and the media. I believe this is an opportunity for the state to show readiness and to send the message that any form of modern slavery in Serbia is not allowed, regardless of type of workers“, Radoicic said.

She underlined that all citizens expect to see a serious response of the state to this case, and if it fails to do so, civil sector will continue sending warnings and indicating to all mistakes; therefore, the state will have to assume responsibility and be held responsible for the criticism.  

Having been asked to comment on the fact that the Prime Minister only refers to the Labour Law, while neglects the criminal offence, attorney at law Nicovic points out to the possibility that civil sector responds to the case and holds the state accountable.  

She also indicated that if the state fails to respond, it might end up before the European Court for Human Rights that holds numerous verdicts against states that have been involved in similar cases in the area of human trafficking.

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