Prosecution of human trafficking in Romania (TIP 2023)

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The government decreased law enforcement efforts.  Articles 210 and 211 of the criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of three to 10 years’ imprisonment for crimes involving an adult victim and five to 10 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child.  These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.  Between June 2018 and October 2022, the Constitutional Court of Romania and the High Court of Cassation and Justice issued several rulings, changing calculations of the statute of limitations.  Prior to these rulings, legal provisions allowed for a pause in the calculation of statute of limitations during certain periods of the legal process, resulting in more time for authorities to investigate, prosecute, and sentence defendants.  However, the courts found these provisions unconstitutional.  Consequently, in October 2022, courts changed the method for calculating the statute of limitations, resulting in the dismissal of dozens of cases, including trafficking cases.  This change led to case dismissals, no penalty for defendants indicted for various crimes, including trafficking, who had already undergone lengthy investigations and trials, and undermined efforts to combat trafficking.  For example, in January 2023, courts dismissed a case involving five organized crime members in a child sex trafficking case dating back 12 years involving two institutionalized 14- and 15-year old girls.  Also in January 2023, the same court dismissed a case of eight known traffickers who, in 2011 and 2012, exploited several underage girls in Romania and Italy.  In early March 2023, courts dismissed the case of a former police chief who aided a group of traffickers by ignoring complaints submitted by child trafficking victims.  Although the government passed legislation eliminating statutory limitations for trafficking crimes in 2021, perpetrators who committed crimes before 2021 benefited from the shorter statute of limitations.  Sources in the judicial system noted several other pending cases that would soon be subject to the statute of limitations and result in dismissals, including cases involving complicit officials.

During the reporting period, DIICOT prosecutors continued to report the need for legislative amendments to deconflict elements of the criminal code.  Currently, the authority to investigate “trafficking in persons, trafficking in minors, and pimping committed by organized crime groups” remained with DIICOT, while other prosecutors were responsible for “regular pimping,” “pimping through use of coercion,” and “the exploitation of minors in forced begging and theft.”  These often overlapping elements of the criminal code and insufficient coordination in the prosecution service led to duplication of efforts, confusion, and subsequent inefficiency in the disposal of cases.  Civil society experts agreed and advocated for a change, noting the overlap between the definitions led to some trafficking investigations being moved to a different department within the police, which did not maintain such expertise, and to more lenient penalties for perpetrators.

In 2022, authorities investigated 458 new trafficking cases (399 sex trafficking, 37 labor trafficking, 22 unspecified forms of trafficking), a decrease from 628 in 2021 and 552 in 2020.  Authorities prosecuted 307 suspected traffickers (258 sex trafficking, 27 labor trafficking, 22 unspecified forms of trafficking), a significant decrease from 522 in 2021 but an increase from 234 in 2020.  Courts convicted 138 traffickers (122 sex trafficking, 16 labor trafficking), a decrease from 162 in 2021.  The majority of convicted traffickers received sentences ranging from two to 22 years’ imprisonment.  In 2022, DIICOT and the Department for Combating Organized Crime (DCCO) cooperated with European counterparts on 15 joint investigative teams (JIT) and several judicial assistance requests.  In one JIT, authorities from Romania, the UK, the EU Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation, and EUROPOL cooperated on a sex trafficking investigation involving four women forced into commercial sex by members of an organized crime group.  Authorities identified 14 suspects and seized drugs, firearms, ammunition, credit cards, mobile phones, and approximately €60,000 ($64,100) in various currencies.  In 2022, Romanian and Austrian authorities established an exchange program assigning Romanian investigators to Austria to cooperate on trafficking cases involving Romanians, particularly victims of forced begging.

Persistent, low-level official complicity in trafficking crimes remained a significant concern.  In 2022, authorities prosecuted six complicit officials, including a mayor, for alleged trafficking crimes involving six child victims, one as young as 12 years old.  In one case, two county Child Protection Services (CPS) employees forced four children into agricultural work and subjected them to repeated abuse and dangerous living conditions.  Separately, authorities prosecuted two police officers, who ignored a child sex trafficking victim’s allegations, for abuse of office, intellectual forgery, aiding the perpetrator, and negligence, and investigated officials of county CPS, who also ignored the child’s allegations, for forgery of official documents and negligence.  Observers reported possible official complicity in trafficking crimes within the General Inspectorate for Immigration, alleging authorities did not investigate allegations concerning labor trafficking as part of an arrangement to protect Romanian employers who lacked a domestic skilled workforce.  Also, according to NGOs, in trafficking cases involving foreign victims, authorities did not effectively implement the law and often charged suspected traffickers for crimes other than trafficking, such as pandering, to avoid lengthy, expensive, and time-consuming investigations.  Several NGOs and media outlets continued to express suspicion that staff working in government-run institutions for children and residential centers for persons with disabilities facilitated trafficking.  NGOs noted in certain counties CPS officials acted as accomplices to traffickers.  The General Police Inspectorate and the National Authority for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Children and Adoption (ANDPDCA) maintained an identification and referral mechanism for trafficking cases among children in government-run institutions.  The mechanism mandated police inspectorates and county-level CPS to cooperate and exchange information on a regular basis to help identify vulnerable children in government-run institutions who were at risk of trafficking; in 2022, CPS identified and referred 15 potential trafficking cases to police who started investigations into six of those cases.  To address the significant number of child sexual abuse cases, including potential child sex trafficking cases, the police maintained a unit dedicated to investigating such crimes.  NGOs noted some judges lacked awareness of the issue and showed bias against victims who often came from socially disadvantaged groups.

Deficiencies within law enforcement, such as staffing shortages and unsustainable workloads, as well as knowledge gaps continued to limit progress.  DIICOT and DCCO were responsible for investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases.  DIICOT maintained a dedicated anti-trafficking unit for prosecuting trafficking crimes and providing training and support to prosecutors in DIICOT’s regional offices.  Similarly, the DCCO operated a dedicated team of anti-trafficking police officers.  Both DIICOT and DCCO continued to operate with limited staff and resources, preventing them from effectively covering all jurisdictions.  Moreover, as a result of the Ukrainian refugee crisis, the government shifted resources, disrupting normal operations for the anti-organized crime police, Immigration Inspectorate, and other law enforcement structures; while authorities continued to conduct routine anti-trafficking efforts, their overall workloads significantly increased.  DIICOT reported investigators and prosecutors avoided specializing in trafficking because of the complexity of the crime and the trauma and burnout associated with handling trafficking cases.  As a result, overextended investigators and prosecutors handled multiple cases simultaneously, which resulted in difficulty building strong cases for prosecution within the six-month period allowed for a suspect to be held in pre-trial detention.  DIICOT also reported one specialized anti-trafficking prosecutor and investigator regularly covered regions with approximately one million residents and concurrently oversaw 100 investigations.  In addition, low retention and frequent transfers of prosecutors resulted in continuous reassignment of cases and, in turn, investigation delays.  To assist with investigations, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MOI) created 23 financial investigator positions nationwide.  Separately, DIICOT received approval to establish a specialized unit for financial investigations, including trafficking-related crimes.  Additionally, the National Agency for the Management of Seized Assets (ANABI) provided support for financial investigations, traced assets nationally and internationally, and was mandated to manage a national fund of confiscated criminal assets available to finance trafficking victim compensation and grants to service providers, once it becomes operational.  In 2022, ANABI seized more than €60 million ($64.1 million) in assets; authorities seized nearly 18 million Romanian lei (RON) ($3.9 million) in assets from one case.

During the last reporting period, the government equipped the police with and trained them on a computer forensics system for detecting online sex trafficking and performing faster and more effective online investigations.  However, authorities continued to report a gap in ways to track online criminal activities and identify and collect digital evidence.  Observers also reported a lack of necessary resources and skills to perform fast and effective online investigations, resulting in police sometimes using their personal phones and computers to conduct online investigations.

Experts reported, while authorities developed some sensitivity to trafficking victims’ situations and increasingly used a victim-centered approach, police, prosecutors, and judges continued to need training on trauma-informed, victim-centered practices.  The government, in partnership with other governments, NGOs, and international organizations, addressed knowledge gaps by training police, prosecutors, judges, labor inspectors, and other front-line workers throughout the year on various topics, such as trauma-informed and victim-centered approaches to investigations, trafficking indicators, and identification and referral.  The government supported additional educational efforts by maintaining, as part of the mandatory curricula for all local and central police, lessons on preventing and combating trafficking.

from 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report – U.S. Department of State

2023 Trafficking in Persons Report – United States Department of State

Prevention of human trafficking in Romania (TIP 2023)

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