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Kosovo Training Strikes Blow Against Human Trafficking

By Elenore Cotter Klingler, Litigation News Associate Editor – October 7, 2008

Enthusiastic prosecutors and judges honed a new tool to combat human trafficking at a groundbreaking training session this summer at the University of Pristina in Kosovo.

The two-day event, sponsored by the ABA Section of Litigation, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative, and the U.S. Department of Justice, showed how local prosecutors could increase their effectiveness by using a weapon already in their arsenal: The mandatory confiscation of criminal assets laws.

Human trafficking has increased dramatically [PDF] in Kosovo as a result of post-war political and economic instability, according to the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). Young women from Moldovia and other Eastern European countries are lured to Kosovo by traffickers’ promises of a good job, then enslaved and forced to service men for the benefit of their “owners.”

Many of the victims interviewed by UNMIK reported being beaten, raped, and threatened by harm to their families. UNMIK has made a concerted effort to combat human trafficking, including through regulations to protect and assist [PDF] victims.

Despite some success prosecuting individual traffickers, the criminal cartels behind the trafficking continue to own and operate nightclubs that serve as fronts for their prostitution businesses. Even though the seizure of criminal assets is mandatory under Kosovo law, “no one had ever seized anything,” says T. Markus Funk, Chicago, Assistant United States Attorney and cochair of the Section of Litigation's Human Trafficking Taskforce.

Funk, who spent two years in Kosovo with the Department of Justice, said that confiscation laws were an unfamiliar concept to local prosecutors. If U.S. prosecutors with experience in organized crime and confiscation help Kosovars use their law, Funk reasoned, it could make an important difference in the fight against trafficking.

The June training attracted prosecutors and judges from all regions of Kosovo, according to David Sip, Kosovo, country director for the ABA Rule of Law Initiative. Despite historical “hesitation by prosecutors to bring these kinds of cases,” the attendees were “really enthusiastic about giving this new law a try,” Sip says.

The presenters handled workshops, question-and-answer sessions, breakout groups, and case studies specifically tailored to the process and particulars of the confiscation law. Simultaneous translation between English and Albanian kept everyone on the same page.

The irony of Americans teaching Kosovars their own law did not escape the presenters. For that reason, the tenor of the training was peer-to-peer rather than teacher-to-student. “I was unsure how they would respond to training,” Funk says, but the attendees were “more active than I've seen in any training over there.”

The training was “completely welcomed,” Sip says, adding that the United States is seen very positively by Kosovars. At the end of the two days, the local prosecutors committed to attack human traffickers with the confiscation law. Even more significantly, the United Nations issued a circular in direct response to the training, which instructed all local prosecutors to use the confiscation laws as a part of their cases. “The UN has never done that before,” Sip says.

Funk is optimistic about the future of human trafficking prosecutions in Kosovo, not in the least because prosecutors have a “very direct stake in fighting it,” he says. One area where ABA members could be of future assistance is in the area of victim representation, Funk suggests.

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