European Court of Human Rights Holds Cyprus Responsible in Human Trafficking Case
The European Court of Human Rights recently held that the government of Cyprus had violated Articles 4 (prohibiting slavery, servitude, and forced labor) and 5 (guaranteeing the right to liberty and security) of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by failing to protect a Russian national, Oxana Rantseva, from trafficking and exploitation in Cyprus.
The Court also found that both Cyprus and Russia had violated their procedural obligations under Articles 2 (guaranteeing the right to life) and 4, respectively.
Ms. Rantseva had arrived in Cyprus on an "artiste" visa to work in a cabaret. She worked no more than 3 days at the cabaret. Her employer asked law enforcement and immigration authorities to arrest her for abandoning her place of work and remaining in Cyprus illegally, but they refused to detain her and returned her to her employer. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Rantseva was found dead under mysterious circumstances.
The case, Rantsev v. Cyprus and Russia, is noteworthy in that the Court, for the first time, held that not only does human trafficking fall within the scope of Article 4 of the Convention, but that characterizing the treatment associated with trafficking as "slavery," "servitude," or "forced or compulsory labor" is not necessary to invoke that provision. The Court found that Cyprus violated its obligations under this provision because its artiste visa and work permit regime rendered the artistes too dependent on their employers, paving the way for exploitation. This was significant because Cypriot authorities had long known that many of the women who entered Cyprus on artiste visas would work in prostitution.
The Court noted that the government's failure to comply with Article 4 also included a failure to train law enforcement officials to initiate an investigation in cases where sufficient indicators of possible trafficking exist, as they did in this case. Russia's procedural failure to comply with Article 4 resulted from its failure to investigate the recruitment aspect of cross-border trafficking: specifically, the possibility that individual agents or networks operating in Russia were involved in trafficking Ms. Rantseva to Cyprus.
The Court ordered both governments to pay damages to Ms. Rantseva's father.