Rantsev v Cyprus and Russia : can a sensible judgement stem the trafficking hysteria ?

06/10/2010 at 00:05 Leave a comment

On 7 January 2010, in an historic first judgment concerning cross border human trafficking in Europe, the European Court of Human Rights has found that Cyprus and Russia committed a number of human rights violations. In a judgment which confirmed the obvious –  that trafficking cannot be considered compatible with the values of the European Convention on Human Rights, or with a democratic society – the Court  further clarified states’ obligations to protect against, as well as to investigate, trafficking. It is an important judgement because it links trafficking to the human rights that are aimed at preventing violence and forced labour, not at those ‘human rights’ that aim to protect women from the indignity of selling sex ( sexual exploitation as defined by CEDAW). In other words, it targets the violence not the sex work.

The case concerns the death of a twenty year old Russian  sex worker Oxana Rantseva in Cyprus where she had arrived under the “artiste” visa scheme. She was working in a cabaret in the island’s largest coastal resort, Limassol. Ms Rantseva was found dead below the balcony of an apartment belonging to an employee of the cabaret, having been taken there from a police station by the cabaret’s owner. The police found a bedspread tied to the railing of the balcony on the upper floor of the apartment. An inquest in Cyprus found she had died as a result of injuries sustained when she jumped from the balcony. In describing the nature of human trafficking the judgment states that, “by its very nature and aim of exploitation [human trafficking] is based on the exercise of powers attaching to the right of ownership. It treats human beings as commodities to be bought and sold and put to forced labour, often for little or no payment, usually in the sex industry but also elsewhere…It implies close surveillance of the activities of victims, whose movements are often circumscribed… It involves the use of violence and threats against victims, who live and work under poor conditions.

Noting that, as a relatively modern phenomenon, human trafficking is not mentioned in the 1950 European Convention, the Court found that it nevertheless fell within the scope of Article 4 of the Convention (prohibiting slavery, servitude, and forced or compulsory labour). The Court elaborated on the positive obligations of states in the context of Article 4 with respect to trafficking, holding that there is a positive obligation on states to adopt appropriate and effective legal and administrative frameworks, to take protective measures, and to investigate trafficking where it has already occurred. The Court described as “indisputable” that the latter obligation involved the need for a full and effective investigation covering all aspects of trafficking allegations, from recruitment to exploitation. The Court noted that these positive obligations applied to the various states potentially involved in human trafficking – states of origin, states of transit and states of destination.

One way forward is to allow migrant women to work on their own as sex workers, if they so wish, with equal rights under the law as Cypriot workers and increased protection because of the risks and vulnerabilities of the sector. But this is unlikely to be permitted, as it is likely to seen by the authorities and the prevailing conservative public opinion as sanction prostitution and migration for the purpose of prostitution. One needs to deal with each component part of ‘trafficking’ as a form of distorted migration hence the question of freedom of movement/ border need to be addressed in the same way as with other irregular or undocumented workers. Regularisation is the only way to deal with ‘irregular migration’ therefore trafficking must be dealt with by abolishing visas that produce/reproduce trafficking (i.e. artistes) visa and regularisation of the work of foreign prostitutes. Monitoring, implementing labour standards and unionising sex workers is crucial.

PS :   The judgement says trafficking is not proscribed in older law because it is a new phenonomenon. But it seems to me that ‘procuring’ became ‘trafficking’ at some point.  What drove this change ? What does it mean? Answers on the back of an envelope.

for more see http://www.interights.org/rantsev  and http://thetrim1.blogspot.com/2010/02/compating-traffficking-in-cyprus.html

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Entry filed under: health, HIV and AIDS, human rights and law, migration and mobility. Tags: , , .

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