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First Judgment Awarding Compensation for A Victim of Trafficking in Serbia Issued and Executed

10 March 2014

In February, the Court of Appeals in Novi Sad confirmed the judgment of the Novi Sad Basic Court in civil proceedings ordering four individuals sentenced for trafficking in human beings to jointly compensate the plaintiff, victim of human trafficking, to the amount of RSD 1,000,000 (approximately €8620) on account of non-material damages. The compensation consists of RSD 800,000 (appr. €6900) on account of mental anguish due to loss of honor and reputation and infringement on the rights of freedom, personality and dignity, and an additional RSD 200,000 (appr. €1720) on account of fear experienced. The court also ordered the defendants to reimburse the litigation costs to the amount of RSD 327,375 (appr. €2822). Since the litigation costs were covered from NHC partner organisation ASTRA’s budget for legal aid to trafficked persons, with the plaintiff’s consent, the reimbursed funds will be paid into a separate account and used for the provision of sustainable legal aid and access to compensation for other trafficking victims.

Although trafficking in human beings was criminalized in Serbia already in 2003 and a right to compensation is guaranteed by both domestic legislation and international treaties to which Serbia is a party, this is the first case in Serbia in which the victim actually received compensation; in two previous cases the defendants were never paid the agreed amount. This is a clear indicator that Serbia does not have an efficient compensation system. It also indicates that trafficked individuals who have escaped the exploitation chain, are faced with numerous violations of their rights by a system that is supposed to protect them. To change this situation, an efficient and sustainable fund for compensation to victims of violent crimes needs to be set up and the legal possibilities of awarding compensation in criminal proceedings need to be fully used.

In this particular case, the possibility of compensation in criminal proceedings was not used; instead, the victim had to initiate additional civil proceedings. As a result, the victim had to give testimony in court twice about her traumatic experiences during the years in which she was sexually exploited and also had to face her traffickers twice in court: first in the criminal proceedings, which lasted four years, and then in the civil case, which lasted another three years. This despite examinations by a neuropsychiatrist and a psychologist indicating that the victim suffered from PTSD and other trauma as a result of human trafficking. The length of the procedures significantly slowed down the victim’s recovery.

In order to set up an efficient system of compensation of victims in Serbia, a change in legislation and the creation of a compensation fund aimed at adequate protection of the rights guaranteed to the victims of this sort of crime were initiated within the Balkans ACT Now! Project. ASTRA is currently implementing this project together with six partner NGOs: the Netherlands Helsinki Committee, two French partner organizations and three organizations in neighboring Croatia, Bosnia and Macedonia. In the coming months, a group of Serbian and international experts will be working on the draft legislation. Later this year, national media campaigns in the four Balkan countries and a regional campaign aiming to inform the broader public of the rights of victims of human trafficking will support this legislative action.

The lawyer representing the plaintiff in the civil proceedings resulting in the compensation was trained in the framework of the NHC project Promotion of the Rights of Trafficked Persons in Serbia funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Based on a news item from our Serbian partner organisation ASTRA.