LATVIA: Tier 2
Latvia is a source and destination country for women and children subjected to sex trafficking and a source and destination country for women, men, and children subjected to forced labor. Latvian women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking within Latvia as well as in other parts of Europe. Latvian men, women, and children are subjected to forced labor within Latvia, as well as in other parts of Europe, particularly in construction and agricultural sectors. Latvian women recruited for brokered marriages in Western Europe, particularly Ireland, are vulnerable to sex trafficking, domestic servitude, and forced labor.
The Government of Latvia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government significantly increased the budget for victim assistance and certified more victims, particularly men. It demonstrated strong prevention efforts through sponsoring awareness-raising activities and launched a working group to facilitate inter-ministerial and public-private coordination. Latvia continued to be a regional leader in identifying and preventing sham marriages that put women in highly vulnerable situations, including some cases of trafficking. However, these robust efforts were not matched in the government’s fight against certain forms of trafficking, particularly Latvians subjected to labor trafficking abroad, as well as trafficking occurring within Latvia. Authorities have not initiated a labor trafficking investigation since 2009, and a Latvian court has never convicted a criminal defendant of labor trafficking. In 2013 and 2014, authorities identified no Latvian or foreign victims exploited within the country. The Supreme Court upheld a conviction and the trafficker was sentenced to prison; however, the number of prosecutions and convictions under the trafficking statute remained low, relative to the number of victims identified.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR LATVIA:
Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases under the trafficking statute (Section 154-1 of the Latvian Criminal Law); increase efforts to proactively identify victims, particularly Latvian and foreign victims exploited within the country; increase training for police, prosecutors, and judges on trafficking, including forced labor and domestic trafficking cases; impose criminal penalties on convicted traffickers, including public officials, that are commensurate with the severity of the crime committed; encourage more victims to assist law enforcement by training officials on how to provide appropriate protections to all victims, such as witness protection and how to minimize the trauma victims face when testifying against their traffickers in courtrooms; provide police investigators sufficient resources to conduct investigations; improve collaboration between the State Labor Inspectorate and the police to ensure credible referrals result in police investigations; provide prosecutors and judges with clarity on the use of Section 154-1 versus Section 164 and consider amending Section 164 if too much overlap exists; provide more victims with compensation from their traffickers and from the State Agency for Judicial Assistance; review and improve the efficiency of trial procedures to ensure a victim-centered approach and to expedite prosecutions; and fully fund and implement the 2014-2020 National Anti-Trafficking in Persons Program (national action plan).
The government maintained weak law enforcement efforts. Latvia prohibits all forms of trafficking through Sections 154-1 and 154-2 of its Criminal Law, which prescribe a maximum penalty of up to 15 years’ imprisonment. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. In October 2014, Latvia amended Section 154-2 to include a detailed description of what constitutes vulnerability. Judges and prosecutors have the power to reclassify cases from Section 154-1 to lesser crimes. For instance, trafficking crimes could be charged under Section 164, which criminalizes exploiting individuals’ vulnerability or using deceit in order to involve them in prostitution—a scenario very similar to sex trafficking—but prescribes punishments as lenient as community services or a fine.
In 2014, the government investigated 10 suspects in one new case of sex trafficking under Section 154-1, a decrease from six new cases involving 18 suspects in 2013. Authorities have not initiated a labor trafficking investigation since 2009, despite the government certifying at least 15 victims of labor trafficking in 2014. Local media raised concerns domestic and international labor exploitation was underreported. The government did not initiate any prosecutions under Section 154-1 in 2014, compared to one prosecution in 2013. As in 2013, authorities did not secure any convictions under Section 154-1 in 2014. This statistical information includes lower-level court sentences that were not appealed. The Supreme Court upheld a conviction under Section 154-1 in 2014; the trafficker received a seven-year prison sentence followed by a police supervision term of three years. Previously, between 2010 and 2013, lower-level courts issued suspended sentences to all four convicted traffickers. Authorities collaborated with several foreign governments on trafficking investigations.
A 19-officer unit of the state police specialized in investigating trafficking, sham marriages, money laundering, and related crimes. Observers reported law enforcement had more capacity to investigate and charge suspected traffickers for trafficking-related crimes, such as money laundering, pimping, and transfer for sexual exploitation. Charging traffickers with lesser crimes, particularly those that often result in suspended sentences, permits traffickers to commit a serious crime with impunity, endangers victims they exploited, diminishes the deterrence effect, and prevents policymakers from effectively evaluating the trafficking situation and calibrating policies and resources to fight this crime. Observers reported the need for more training for law enforcement, particularly on evidence collection and understanding psychological coercion. The government hosted trainings for some state police, prosecutors, and judges. The Office of the Prosecutor General indicated low salaries and limited benefits caused a high level of staff rotation within the anti-trafficking police unit, affecting morale and case investigation quality. Latvian court procedures were lengthy and stalled anti-trafficking efforts. In 2014, authorities launched an investigation of two Riga police representatives charged with facilitating pimping. The prosecution of a former anti-trafficking police officer accused of extortion and other crimes was ongoing at the close of the reporting period. Authorities continued to prosecute a sworn attorney for withholding evidence in a trafficking-related prosecution. The government reported no new prosecutions or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking.
The government sustained victim protection efforts. The government provided approximately 159,400 euro ($176,600) for its victim assistance program in 2014, compared with approximately 93,400 euro ($103,500) in 2013. The government’s NGO-run rehabilitation program offered victims psychological assistance, medical aid, legal representation, housing, and reintegration services. The government’s bureaucratic delays in contracting an NGO to provide services resulted in a gap of state assistance provision for new victims for the first two months of 2015. In 2014, the government enrolled 27 new victims into its assistance program, compared with 22 victims in 2013; the program assisted 38 victims in total, including some identified in 2013. All of the newly enrolled victims were Latvian and had been exploited abroad; eight victims were male. Only three of these victims cooperated with law enforcement in 2014, amid reports that officials did not gain victims’ trust or take sufficient efforts to encourage victims to cooperate. Local victim advocates reported the number of victims certified by the state did not accurately reflect the scope of trafficking in Latvia because of the victims’ hesitation or inability to report abuses. Latvian courts had video conference and audio recording capabilities; nevertheless, observers noted instances in which victims facing their traffickers during trial caused re-victimization. The government enrolled one victim in its witness protection program in 2014. Latvian courts did not order restitution payments for any victims in 2014, despite courts confiscating property from suspected traffickers. One victim received compensation from a government fund for victims of severe crime. There were no reports of victims penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking.
The government demonstrated strong prevention activities. Latvian authorities continued to use Section 165-1, which prohibits the transfer of individuals for the purpose of sexual exploitation, to prevent potential cases of trafficking. In 2014, the government prosecuted 11 defendants under Section 165-1 and convicted 14 suspects, although only one conviction came with a prison sentence. The prime minister established an anti-trafficking working group comprised of 33 representatives across ministries and NGOs; the group will coordinate inter-ministerial activities and implement the 2014 to 2020 national action plan. Authorities reported the state budget does not allocate funding for several of the action plan’s activities, including training. Various ministries contributed to a number of awareness-raising activities, including programs for schools and potential migrants. The State Labor Inspectorate continued to refer cases of suspected labor trafficking to the police, but none of these referrals resulted in the opening of an investigation. The government continued to maintain information and emergency hotlines that received calls on potential trafficking situations. The government provided anti-trafficking training for Latvian diplomatic personnel as well as foreign diplomats assigned to Latvia. The government did not report any specific measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor.