ECHR judgment of 30 March 2017 in the case of Chowdury and Others v. Greece (application No. 21884/15).
In 2015, the applicants were assisted in preparing the application. Subsequently, the application was communicated to Greece.
In the case, the complaint on the inadequate reaction to trafficking in human beings through exploitation and the vulnerability of illegal labor migrants has been successfully reviewed. The case involved a violation of the requirements of Article 4 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
The applicants are 42 citizens of Bangladesh. In the absence of work or residence permits in Greece, they were employed in 2012 - 2013 as seasonal agricultural workers. With promises of wages of 22 euros a day and when placed in horrific conditions, they worked for a very long time under the supervision of armed overseers. Since strikes broke out a few months later, employers responded with threats and hired new migrants from Bangladesh.
On April 17, 2013, one of the guards opened fire on about a hundred workers who demanded repayment of arrears on wages, and wounded some of the applicants. A proceeding was brought against employers, the guard who opened fire, and the overseer. In addition to the charge of causing serious harm to health, the prosecutor charged with trafficking in human beings (article 323A of the Criminal Code). One group of applicants (who were all wounded) was recognized by the prosecutor's office as victims of trafficking and took part in the trial.
In July 2014, the Assize Court imposed sentences of imprisonment for serious bodily harm, but dismissed the prosecution of trafficking on the grounds that the applicants signed the agreements voluntarily, without losing their freedom of movement, which allowed them to leave the employer. The prosecutor at the Court of Cassation refused to file a cassation appeal. Other groups of applicants (who were not injured) were not brought to trial in the assizes court. In May 2013, they also filed a complaint demanding their recognition as victims of trafficking. In August 2014, the prosecutor refused to initiate proceedings on the grounds that the delay in the appearance of the applicants casts doubt on the reality of their presence during the events. The applicants, who believed that they had been subjected to compulsory or compulsory trial, claimed at the European Court that the authorities had evaded reacting to their situation.
ISSUES OF LAW
Concerning compliance with article 4, paragraph 2, of the Convention. (a) Applicability. The concept of trafficking is not limited to sexual exploitation. Exploitation through labor is one of the forms of exploitation identified by the definition of trafficking in human beings set out in article 4 (a) of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (the Convention against Trafficking in Human Beings), which reveals the internal link between forced or compulsory labor and human trafficking. The same idea is clearly seen in the article of the Criminal Code, which is applicable in the present case. The prior consent of the victim is not sufficient to ensure that employment is qualified as "forced labor". If the employer abused his powers or enjoyed the vulnerable position of workers for the purpose of exploitation, the latter did not offer their work voluntarily. The question of whether a person proposes his work voluntarily is factual and must be considered in the light of all the relevant circumstances of the case.
In the present case, the applicants began to work, being in a vulnerable position as illegal migrants without any resources, and they were at risk of being detained, detained and deported. The applicants, of course, understood that if they quit their job, they would never receive wage arrears, which accumulated daily.
Even assuming that when applying for work, the applicants offered their work voluntarily and honestly believed that they would be paid wages, the behavior of their employers (threats and violence, especially in response to the demand for wages) demonstrated that the situation subsequently changed. Thus, although the applicants were not in bondage, their working conditions clearly allowed the conclusion that their situation was forced labor and human trafficking, as defined in article 3 (a) of the Additional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (the Palermo Protocol) and Article 4 of the Convention against Trafficking in Human Beings.
Article 4 of the Convention is applicable in the present case (unanimously adopted).
(b) Compliance with obligations. The grounds set out below compelled the Court to conclude that the respondent State had not fulfilled its positive obligations regarding trafficking in human beings (obstruction of trafficking, protection of victims, effective investigation and punishment of perpetrators).
The European Court has used the Convention against Trafficking in Human Beings and its interpretation by the Group of Experts on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA).
(i) Establish the necessary legal and regulatory framework. This obligation was substantially fulfilled. In particular, Greece ratified or signed long before the events that gave rise to the present case, the main international instruments (including the Palermo Protocol of December 2000 and the Convention against Trafficking in Human Beings of 16 May 2005) and implemented the relevant European Union law in the Criminal and Criminal Procedural codes on the punitive aspect and protection of victims.
(ii) Operational measures. The Convention against Trafficking in Human Beings recommended the adoption of preventive measures (strengthening coordination at the national level between the various bodies responsible for combating trafficking in persons and reducing demand, including through border controls) and protective measures (facilitating the identification of victims by qualified persons and assisting victims in their physical , psychological and social rehabilitation).
In the present case, this obligation was not fulfilled: although the authorities had long been aware of the local situation (the ombudsman's report drew attention to the situation back in 2008), their reaction was one-off, and the general decision was not taken.
(iii) Effectiveness of the investigation and trial. In the cases of exploitation, the prosecution authorities and the courts were to urgently and on their own initiative, as soon as the situation had been brought to their attention, all the logical conclusions from the application of the relevant criminal law texts to the extent permitted by their respective powers. In the present case, the following grounds led to the conclusion that these obligations were not fulfilled.
(alpha) As for the applicants who did not take part in the proceedings in the assizes court. As soon as the prosecutor received factual information that these applicants were hired by the same employers and worked under the same conditions as the group of applicants who participated in the proceedings in the Assize court, he had an obligation to investigate allegations of trafficking and forced labor. However, the decision that rejected the complaint did not give grounds for believing that the prosecutor really considered this aspect.
Attaching importance to the fact that the specified group of persons allowed a delay in bringing the matter to the attention of the police, the prosecutor did not comply with Article 13 of the Convention against Trafficking in Persons, which specifically provided for a "recovery and rehabilitation period" of not less than 30 days, so that the interested person could have time to escape from the influence of traffickers and take an informed decision about cooperation with the authorities.
Thus, it is advisable to reject the objection that this group of applicants did not have the status of a "victim", and conclude that there was no effective investigation.
(beta) As for the applicants who participated in the proceedings in the Assize court. Persons accused of "trafficking in persons" were acquitted on the basis of a narrow interpretation, which, apparently, confused trafficking in people with bonded status. However, the restriction of freedom of movement, which affected not so much the labor of a person as certain aspects of the victim's life, was not a necessary condition for qualifying the situation as forced labor or even trafficking in persons. The prosecutor at the Court of Cassation subsequently refused without specifying the reasons for filing a complaint of acquittal.
In addition, despite the accusations of causing serious bodily harm, the original sentences for imprisonment were mitigated to a financial penalty of 5 euros for each day of detention.
Compensation aspect. Article 15 of the Convention against Trafficking in Human Beings required States parties to provide in their legislation the right of victims to receive compensation from the perpetrators of the crime and take steps to establish a compensation fund.
However, in the present case, even taking into account the serious bodily harm, the compensation established by the Assize Court did not exceed 43 euros per employee with injuries.
The violation of the requirements of Article 4 of the Convention (unanimously) was admitted in the case.
In the application of Article 41 of the Convention. The difficulty in assessing property damage incurred as a result of unpaid wages and the decision of the Assize Court determined the decision of the European Court of Justice to award on an equitable basis a total amount of material damage and moral damage of 16,000 euros to each of the applicants who participated in the proceedings in the Assize court, and EUR 12,000 to each of the remaining applicants in respect of all types of damage caused.