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Defending the rights of human trafficking victims in Slovakia: Report on the First Expert Meeting in Slovakia for lawyers

02 June 2015

On 15 April, the Netherlands Helsinki Committee and NGO Human Rights League (HRL) from Slovakia organized the first Expert Meeting for lawyers on human trafficking-related topics, in Bratislava. The meeting focused on the topic ‘trauma’ and looked at the impact that trauma can have on the memory of human trafficking survivors and the ability of victims to give detailed and consistent testimony in court proceedings. The meeting also consisted of exercises that showed lawyers how to improve the communication with clients who are victims of human trafficking suffering from traumatic experiences.

The expert meeting consisted of practical exercises such as role plays which focused on the preparation of the trafficked persons for the pre-trial and court proceedings and the communication between the lawyer and client/victim.

The highlight of the seminar was a presentation held by Dutch psychiatrist, Pim Scholte on the consequences of trauma. Mr. Scholte – who works for Equator Foundation – has worked with many victims of human trafficking. His presentation was about consequences of trauma: How does the human memory work and why victims of trafficking are sometimes unable to testify as detailed and consistent as the court asks from them.

This first Expert meeting for lawyers was completed with the presentation of preliminary findings from the ongoing monitoring of court sessions in human trafficking cases in Slovakia.

The participants of the meeting have different backgrounds, such as pro bono lawyers, social workers, IOM workers and officials from Ministry of Interior of Slovak Republic. All of them have been trained by the NHC in providing legal aid and representation to victims of human trafficking. The three Expert Meetings that will take place in 2015 are a follow up workshops of the training.

The participants highly appreciated the possibility to attend this first Expert Meeting for lawyers on human trafficking issues. The professional view of the psychiatrist helped them to better understand the state of mind of the victims they are working with, and the meeting will help them to better inform and prepare their clients for the pre-trial and court proceedings.

The findings from the monitoring sessions by HRL of human trafficking cases show that in Slovakia, as well as in Bulgaria, courts in general, prefer to focus on the conviction of the perpetrator, without paying attention to the rights and protection of the victims, who act as witnesses in these cases. Many times the victims are being treated disrespectfully, particularly in cases where victims of human trafficking end up in prostitution.

The consequence is that victims who can act as witnesses in criminal cases, are discouraged to participate in the court procedure. Another issue is that many court rooms do not provide sufficient protection for the victims because they are often being confronted face-to-face with the trafficker(s) which causes great distress, trauma and evokes intimidation by the trafficker. And sometimes victims who witness are too intimidated to speak out and give their statement.

Another conclusion from the monitoring activities is that until now in Slovakia, there has not been a single case where the court granted financial compensation to a victim of trafficking in a criminal procedure. The courts usually refer victims to submit a compensation claim by starting a civil procedure. However, this does not happen very often because usually the procedures are very lengthy and costly.

The next Expert Meeting for lawyers will focus on ways to increase access to compensation for victims of human trafficking in Slovakia. For that purpose, also other stakeholders will participate at the meeting, such as public prosecutors and judges.

The series of three Expert Meetings for lawyers in the three participating countries are part of the project “Promotion of the Rights of Trafficked Persons in Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia with Emphasis on Legal Support – A Human Rights-Based Approach”. The first Expert Meeting in Bulgaria already took place on 31 March 2015, have a look at our news item about it here.