A report by the New York-based group, Human Rights Watch, says thousands of East European women in Bosnia Herzegovina have been forced into prostitution with the help of local and United Nations police.
Human Rights Watch reports that local corruption and the complicity of international police officers in Bosnia Herzegovina have allowed a trafficking network to flourish in which "women are tricked, threatened, physically assaulted and sold as chattel." Most of the estimated 2000 victims of forced prostitution are believed to be women and girls from the impoverished countries Moldova, Romania and Ukraine.
Human Rights Watch says that the women were often promised lucrative jobs in Western Europe, but that instead they found themselves trapped in debt bondage and forced prostitution.
Martina Vandenberg spent three years investigating their plight and wrote the group's 75-page report. Ms. Vandenberg tells VOA-News the report documents how corrupt local Bosnian police officers facilitate the trafficking of women by creating false documents, visiting brothels to partake of free sexual services and sometimes engage in trafficking directly.
She suggests that traffickers and corrupt Bosnian officials could move in relative freedom as they had little to fear from the IPTF, the United Nations-led International Police Task Force, which was supposed to bring stability in post-war Bosnia Herzegovina. "Some International Police Task Force officers had gone to the clubs as clients, sending a very strong message to trafficked women that they couldn't even trust the international police," says Ms. Vandenberg. "We found that some, again a small number, but some International Police Task Force officers had women delivered to their homes for sexual services. And we found that in three cases International Police Task Force officers had actually purchased women, negotiating purchase prices for women and their passports with owners of night clubs." Ms. Vandenberg says many women and girls are sold for prices ranging from nearly $700 to more than $2,300.
U.N. Spokeswoman Kirsten Haupt acknowledged involvement of United Nations police officers but says they played a minor role. She adds that since 18 officers were repatriated for sexual misconduct, the situation has dramatically improved. "I know it is a very juicy subject to concentrate on the few IPTF officers that were found [to be involved]. But you have to think that there are thousands of customers in these bars," she says. "The real problem is the plight of these women. Not the involvement of these officers. It is a bad thing that happened, but I think what we have to look at is how can we get this women out of this situation."
The European Union takes over police duties from the United Nations in January. Human Rights Watch is urging the EU and the government of Bosnia Herzegovina to crack down on corruption, make anti-trafficking a priority, arrest and prosecute the traffickers and provide witness protection as well as social services to victims.