Albanian Minister of the Interior Sanderl Lleshaj addressed the OSCE Alliance Conference against Trafficking in Persons, which opened yesterday in Vienna.
During his speech, via live stream, he urged participants to recognise that the “confiscation of property, revenue and assets generated by or used for criminal activities remains a crucial strategy. Confiscation directly discourages criminals and can be instrumental to compensate victims and support their rehabilitation.”
The theme of the conference acknowledged that while many countries have laws in place to combat human trafficking, it remains a significant issue globally. It is estimated that there are at least 25 million human trafficking victims today, yet in 2019 only 11,000 traffickers were prosecuted. That is a ratio of one trafficker per 2154 victims.
“It is a drop in the ocean”, said OSCE Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings Valiant Richey, commenting on the number of prosecutions compared to the estimated number of victims. “The current rate of prosecution means most traffickers never spend a day in a courthouse, let alone a prison cell. This needs to change. Countering impunity and establishing a strong rule of law must be a fundamental cornerstone in the fight against trafficking in human beings.”
Katarzyna Gardapkhadze, First Deputy Director at the OSCE Office of the Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, described human trafficking as a “highly-gendered crime, with low rates of identifications, and even lower of prosecutions and convictions”, and urged participants “to systematically include survivors’ voices into policy discussions and development.”
The confiscation of assets referenced by Lleshaj is a part of the “anti-corruption package” that entered into force as emergency legislation this year. It saw the creation of a special police task force that operates outside of the judicial system and reports to the Ministry of the Interior, who in return reports to Prime Minister Edi Rama.
As well as having the power to seize assets, this task force can also surveil, follow, intercept communications, restrict movement, and detain anyone they suspect of wrongdoing, without the need for a court warrant.
While the law has been effective in detaining criminals, it has raised concerns from civil society and human rights watchdogs who say it has the potential to be abused. President Ilir Meta also vetoed the law saying it violated human rights and the Constitution.
Albania has consistently struggled with being a source country for human trafficking. A recent UK report found that out of 10,627 victims of modern slavery, many came from Albania. In 2018, almost 1000 Albanian victims of human trafficking were identified in the UK while many more are believed to be working in forced labour and sexual exploitation.
In the most recent US State Department Report it was noted that while some efforts had been made, the Albanian government did not meet the minimum standards required for eliminating human trafficking. It reported that only five traffickers had been sentenced in 2018 and 2019 and that the government needed to “investigate, prosecute, and punish traffickers including officials who cooperate with them.