On 25.06.2020 the ECHR held unanimously that a Croatian women’s rights under the Convention had been violated.
The applicant had allegedly been forced into prostitution by a former police officer whom she had to give half of the money she earned from providing sexual services and who threatened and punished her if she did not comply with his demands. After turning to the police, she was officially given the status of a victim of human trafficking.
Following investigation, the former police officer was brought to trial but eventually acquitted of forcing the women into prostitution.She applied to the ECHR and relied on Art. 4 ECHR (prohibition of slavery and forced labour), complaining of an inadequate official procedural response to her allegations.
Notably, organisations such as the Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) were granted leave to intervene.
The ECHR clarified its case-law on human trafficking, pointing out in particular that it relied on the definition of human trafficking under international law. Thereby the crime of trafficking is a combination of three elements which all need to be present. Namely these are an action (e.g. recruitment, transportation), some form of means (e.g. coercion, abuse of a position of vulnerability) and purpose (e.g. exploitation of the prostitution of others).
Contrary to Croatia’s position, the ECHR noted that all of the necessary elements were given such as the recruitment of the applicant via Facebook which constitutes a recognised “means” used by traffickers to recruit their victims. Croatia therefore was under an obligation to investigate the applicant’s allegations. However, they had not followed all obvious lines of enquiry. For instance, they failed to enquire into the applicant’s and her alleged abuser’s Facebook exchanges and had not interviewed all possible witnesses.
Without much further evidence being presented, the court proceedings had been a question of the applicant’s word against her alleged abuser’s.
This lack of proper investigation constitutes a violation of Croatia’s procedural obligations under Art. 4 ECHR.