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U.S. State Department recommends Belarus to abolish all forms of forced labor

04.07.2016  |  Politics
U.S. State Department recommends Belarus to abolish all forms of forced labor The countries of the first group are marked with green, second – with the yellow, third – with the red. Orange color is for the countries that might move from the second to the third group.

Belarus is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor.

The 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report published at the U.S. Department of State puts Belarus on the 3rd (the lowest) level that also includes 26 more countries, including Russia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Iran, and others.

Belarusian victims are primarily subjected to trafficking in Russia and within Belarus, as well as in Poland, Turkey, and other countries in Eurasia and the Middle East. Some Belarusian women traveling for foreign employment in the adult entertainment and hotel industries are subjected to sex trafficking. The government has identified Belarusian, Moldovan, Russian, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese victims exploited in Belarus, the authors of the TIP Report inform.

State-sponsored forced labor continues to be an area of concern, and the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution in July 2015 expressing deep concern at the government’s “violations of labour rights amounting to forced labour,” among other human rights issues. The European Parliament condemned an April 2015 Belarusian presidential decree, which requires unemployed persons to pay a fee to the state or potentially face compulsory community service. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights took the position that an earlier presidential decree, issued in December 2012, “effectively takes away the right of workers in the wood-processing industry to freely leave their jobs.” That decree assigns monthly bonuses to employees in the wood-processing industry that they must pay back if they resign; failure to repay these “bonuses” risks a court order obligating the employee to continue to work in that industry under law enforcement supervision.

The UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus reported repercussions for non-participation in subbotniks, including non-renewal of employment contracts and the revocation of monthly bonuses. State employers and authorities also intimidated and fined some workers who refused to participate. Authorities require university and high school students to help farmers during the harvesting season without paying them for their labors, in addition to other forced community service projects. Authorities reportedly forced military conscripts to perform work unrelated to military service. Per a 2006 presidential decree, parents who have had their parental rights removed are subjected to compulsory labor, and the government retains 70 percent of their wages. The ILO Committee of Experts noted its deep concern in 2016 that the Belarusian criminal code permits penalties involving compulsory labor be imposed for the expression of views opposed to the established political, social, or economic system. The ILO Committee of Experts cited reports that the government used or threatened to use arbitrary detention involving compulsory labor for apparently political motives.

The Government of Belarus does not fully meet the minimum standard for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. The government continued to be a leader in multilateral efforts to combat trafficking and made efforts to protect victims exploited abroad and internally by criminal enterprises. Additionally, the government developed a formal victim identification and referral mechanism and issued a contract to an NGO to provide victim services, the first such contract since a January 2013 law created the framework for state financing for NGOs. However, the government is engaged in practices that condone forced labor, and made no efforts to reform its policies. In fact, in 2015, the government introduced a new penalty on unemployed citizens that requires payment of a fee to the state to avoid compulsory community service. Other policies effectively creating state-sponsored forced labor continued, affecting civil servants, workers in the wood processing industry, students, and citizens suffering from drug or alcohol dependency, among others. For the third consecutive year, authorities did not convict any traffickers under the trafficking statute.

Recommendations for Belarus:

Reform state policies to end all forms of state-sponsored forced labor, including by repealing presidential decrees and other laws that result in the unemployed, civil servants, wood processing workers, students, and citizens suffering from drug or alcohol dependency, among others being subjected to forced labor; significantly increase efforts to investigate and prosecute cases of forced labor and sex trafficking; amend article 181 to include causing children younger than 18 to engage in prostitution as a trafficking crime, regardless of evidence of coercion, as prescribed by international law; increase resources devoted to trafficking victim assistance and protection within Belarus, including for state-owned territorial centers for social services and for NGOs; provide child sex trafficking victims with services specialized to their needs and refer all identified victims to care facilities; train all relevant officials on the national identification and referral mechanism; proactively screen all individuals in prostitution for indicators of trafficking; and increase labor inspections to identify internal forced labor.

You can download the whole report on Belarus here.

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