Back

Practical reforms to combat human trafficking

L.E. v. Greece  | 2016

Practical reforms to combat human trafficking

As regards human trafficking in particular, there is a need to adopt a comprehensive approach to combat this phenomenon by putting in place additional measures aimed at punishing traffickers, preventing trafficking, and protecting victims.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, January 2016

Background

When L.E. was 22 she was tricked into travelling to Greece with a human trafficker. When they arrived, the trafficker took away her passport and L.E. was made to work as a prostitute for two years. She was repeatedly prosecuted for breaking prostitution laws, and was eventually detained awaiting expulsion. The authorities were then told that she had been the victim of human trafficking.

An investigation began and L.E.’s expulsion was suspended. However, there were significant delays before the prosecutors formally recognised L.E. as being a victim of human trafficking, which meant that she was denied certain protections for nine months.

The prosecutor also failed to start criminal proceedings against the suspected trafficker for five months, despite the authorities having the relevant evidence. After the investigation was started, there were significant shortcomings and delays. Apart from entering the suspect’s name on a register, the police took no real steps to find him and bring him to justice.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The Strasbourg court ruled that Greek law at the time had been strong enough to protect L.E. as a victim of human trafficking. However, a series of shortcomings and delays meant that the authorities’ response had fallen short of the standards required by the convention to combat human trafficking – breaching L.E.’s basic rights.

Follow-up

After these events, the Greek authorities introduced a series of new laws and practices to tackle human trafficking as well as a new national rapporteur to supervise and co-ordinate the system for identifying victims.

The court’s judgment was also sent to government agencies, to help make sure that relevant authorities act quickly and diligently in future cases. A special unit of the Greek Police has been assigned to address human trafficking, made up of fourteen squads operating across the country.

The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers continues to monitor the Greek authorities’ response to human trafficking. Greece is also monitored by the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA).


Related examples

Justice for thousands of “erased” people after 20 years without rights

In February 1992, 25,671 people in Slovenia were automatically stripped of their right to live there. Many people – including Ana Mezga - had their papers taken away, were evicted from their homes, could not work, lost personal possessions or had their families broken apart. The law was changed and a compensation scheme set up after a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights.

Read more

Reform of gun laws after police shoot dead unarmed men

Two 21-year-olds absconded from military service and went to see their grandmother. When military police arrived, the men were unarmed and non-violent - and tried to run away. Nevertheless, they were shot dead. The Strasbourg court ruled that the military police had used grossly excessive force. This case, and others, led to changes in the rules on the authorities’ use of firearms.

Read more

Reforms made following the inhuman treatment of a four-year-old girl

When she was four years old, Tabitha Mitunga was detained by the Belgian authorities for almost two months – without family, friends, or anybody assigned to look after her. She suffered psychological damage and the Strasbourg court ruled that her rights had been violated. Her case highlighted the need for better protections for unaccompanied children in Belgium and led to substantial reforms.

Read more

Death of an alleged victim of human trafficking

At age 20, Oxana Rantseva was allegedly trafficked from Russia to Cyprus for sexual exploitation. Two weeks later, she was found dead beneath a balcony after trying to escape. The Strasbourg court found that the authorities had failed to protect her and also failed to properly investigate after her death. Following the events, a series of measures were carried out to fight human trafficking.

Read more

Human trafficking criminalised after 14-year-old girl kept in domestic servitude in Paris

From the age of 14, Henriette Akofa Siliadin was kept in domestic servitude. She worked all day, 7 days a week for over 4 years, for no pay. The people responsible could not be properly brought to justice, because French law had not criminalised their actions. The case helped bring about legal reforms to combat human trafficking.

Read more

Man’s struggle leads to the legalisation of homosexuality in Ireland

David Norris suffered from anxiety attacks and depression after realising that any open expression of his homosexuality could lead to a criminal prosecution. The Strasbourg court ruled that the criminalisation of his sexuality breached his basic rights. In 1993, this led to the full legalisation of homosexual acts between consenting adults under Irish law.

Read more

Failure to investigate attack on Roma settlement leads to local reforms

All of the Roma inhabitants of a village had their houses burnt down by other locals. The authorities were warned, but refused to intervene. After the attack, the authorities did not investigate properly and the courts failed to give the victims a fair trial. Their application to Strasbourg led to compensation and local programmes to combat discrimination and exclusion.

Read more

Reinstatement of judge said to be the victim of political corruption

Oleksandr Volkov was dismissed from his role as a Supreme Court judge. His lawyer argued that he had been the victim of political corruption, which sought to undermine the independence of the Ukrainian judiciary. The Strasbourg court ruled that his dismissal had been filled with bias and manipulation, in breach of his basic rights. Mr Volkov was reinstated as a Supreme Court judge in 2015.

Read more

An unreasonable ban on a peaceful demonstration leads to reforms to protect free assembly

A human rights NGO planned a march in Yerevan, to commemorate a man who had died in police custody. The Mayor’s office banned the march. The Strasbourg court ruled that the ban had not been properly justified, breaching the NGO’s right to free assembly. After the ban, reforms were made to protect the right to hold public demonstrations in Armenia.

Read more

Justice for victims of child abuse

Whilst in their parents’ care, four children were exposed to terrible neglect and emotional abuse. The Strasbourg court found that the local authority had known about the abuse, and had the power to take steps to protect the children, but it had not done so for four-and-a-half years. The children were awarded damages which provided funds for future psychological care.

Read more

Reforms to protect free assembly after protest was banned

In 2001 the Christian Democratic People’s Party of Moldova organised peaceful public protests calling for elections and European democratic values. The authorities banned the meetings. The Strasbourg court ruled that the ban had been disproportionate, and violated the right to free assembly. This case and others led to substantial reforms to protect the right to free assembly in Moldova.

Read more

Excessive police operation against journalists leads to reforms to protect media sources

Four Belgian journalists were targeted by the police in a huge search and seizure operation aimed at identifying the source of leaked government information. The Strasbourg court ruled that the operation had been unjustified and disproportionate. The case influenced new legislation to improve protections for journalists and their sources.

Read more

Fair trial reforms after innocent man was sentenced to 40 years in jail

Neđo Ajdarić was 52 when he was given an unfair trial, wrongly convicted of three murders, and sentenced to 40 years in prison. He was released after winning his case in Strasbourg, and changes were introduced to help ensure fair trials in the future.

Read more

Legal standards changed after gay father was denied custody of his child

When João Salgueiro da Silva Mouta got divorced, the Court of Appeal granted his wife custody of their daughter. A decisive reason was the fact that Mr Salgueiro da Silva Mouta was gay. The Strasbourg court ruled that this had been discriminatory, and without proper justification – leading to a change in Portuguese court practices.

Read more

Nurse compensated after being fired for whistleblowing

Brigitte Heinisch was a geriatric nurse. She claimed that practices in the old people’s home where she worked were putting patients at risk. After she made her allegations public, she was fired. Yet, the German courts found that her dismissal was lawful - so Mrs Heinisch took her case to Strasbourg. Her case was then re-opened and she won compensation.

Read more

New rules to protect media pluralism after company prevented from broadcasting

Italian television was dominated by a small number of channels, with little diversity of ownership. When Centro Europa 7 tried to set up new channels, they were refused access to a broadcast frequency. The company complained to the Strasbourg court that the authorities were maintaining the concentration of media power in Italy. The case led to new rules for protecting media pluralism.

Read more

Justice for man made to pay huge fine for publishing criticism of a public official

Zoran Lepojić wrote an article saying that a mayor had wasted public money. The mayor successfully brought defamation charges, and Mr Lepojić was fined more than 8 average monthly salaries. The Strasbourg court ruled that this had been unreasonable, violating Mr Lepojić’s right to free speech. The Supreme Court of Serbia took steps to protect freedom of expression in such circumstances.

Read more

Unfair trial leads to reforms to protect justice

César Igual Coll was cleared of failing to pay family maintenance, because he was unemployed and had no money. However, his case went to appeal. The appeal court held no public hearing and no evidence was taken from him. Nevertheless, César was convicted and sentenced to jail. The European court ruled that he had been denied a fair hearing. Changes were made to protect fair trials in Spain.

Read more

Reforms after children were taken away from their parents because they were poor

Emílie Wallová and Jaroslav Walla’s five children were taken away by the authorities, on the grounds that the parents did not have enough money to look after them. The Strasbourg court ruled that taking the children away in these circumstances had breached the parents’ right to family life. New legislation banned putting children in care just because of the financial situation of their parents.

Read more

Arrest of human rights campaigner during his anti-corruption protest sparks freedom of assembly reforms

Human rights defender Oleksiy Vyerentsov organised demonstrations to protest against corruption. The peaceful gatherings were banned, Mr Vyerentsov was convicted of an offence and he was sentenced to three days’ detention. The European court ruled that his rights had been breached. The case led to ongoing reforms to protect the right to peaceful demonstrations in Ukraine.

Read more