Case No.: 40311/10
Judgment date: 18 July 2019
In this case the applicants, three Russian nationals, claimed that they had been victims of human trafficking. Between June 2003 and October 2003 the applicants obtained visas from the General Consulate of Greece in Moscow. They alleged that consulate employees, having been bribed by Russian traffickers, had issued visas to facilitate their entry into Greece for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
After recognising the applicants as “victims of human trafficking” under Greek national law, the authorities brought proceedings against the suspected traffickers regarding their alleged sexual exploitation.
In respect of the third applicant, in 2011, the Thessaloniki Court of Appeal partly confirmed the conviction of two of the traffickers on the counts of criminal conspiracy, human trafficking, and sexual exploitation, while rejecting the count of unlawful confinement.
In respect of the first and second applicants, in 2010, two traffickers were convicted by the Athens Criminal Court for forgery, use of forged documents and falsification of certificates, but were acquitted by the Athens Appeal Court of organized crime and human trafficking.
Regarding the issuance of visas by the consulate, the Athens Criminal Court acquitted several individuals, including consular employees, as the offences of human trafficking allegedly committed were time-barred.
Before the ECtHR, the applicants claimed that they had been forced to work as prostitutes in Greece and complained that the Greek authorities had failed to fulfil their obligations to criminalise and prosecute acts relating to human trafficking. They further complained of inadequacies and shortcomings in the investigation and the judicial proceedings.
Unanimously, the Court found Greece in violation of Art. 4(2) (prohibition of slavery and forced labour) in two respects, applying the general principles established in Rantsev v. Cyprus and Russia, No. 25965/04, 07.01.10, L.E v. Greece, No. 71545/12, 21.04.16 and Chowdury and others v. Greece, No. 21884/15, 30.03.17.
Firstly, Greece failed to establish an appropriate legal and regulatory framework ensuring the effective and efficient prevention and prosecution of human trafficking. The national courts applied the provisions of the Criminal Code as established prior to the 2002 amendments under which human trafficking was not a separate criminal offence and enabled the national courts to declare the proceedings time-barred.
Secondly, the police investigations and judicial proceedings were not carried out with sufficient diligence. Criminal proceedings relating to the applicants’ exploitation lasted 7 years 9 months (third applicant) and 9 years 3 months (first and second applicants). It took 2 years 7 months for the police to send the case file in the visa proceedings to the prosecutor and more than 3 years for the preliminary investigation phase. Further, the first and second applicants had not benefited from an effective investigation in relation to the search for N.M., one of the principal suspects, and none of the applicants had been sufficiently involved in the visa investigation.
However, the Court failed to find a breach of the positive obligation to take adequate operational measures to protect the applicants. The Court held that the applicants had been recognized as “victims of human trafficking” shortly after presenting themselves to the police, the enforcement of their expulsion orders were suspended and the first applicant was placed in a home.
The applicants were awarded €15,000 each in non-pecuniary damages.
T.I. and others adds to the relatively scarce case law of the ECtHR on Art. 4, making positive findings in relation to the duty to adopt a legal framework to prohibit and punish human trafficking and the procedural obligation to investigate. In relation to the positive obligations on states to take protective operational measures in the specific context of human trafficking, such measures should not impose a disproportionate burden on the authorities (see Chowdury and Others v Greece: Further Integration of the Positive Obligations under Article 4 of the ECHR and the CoE Convention on Action against Human Trafficking). Relying on the “impossible and disproportionate burden” test, the Court held that the simple suspension of the applicants’ expulsion orders and the issuance of temporary residence permits were sufficient to comply with the State’s positive obligation to protect, thus, imposing a very light burden on State authorities.
The Grand Chamber will further analyse the violation of Art. 4 in the context of forced prostitution in the case of S.M. v Croatia, No. 60561/14, 19.07.18.