26 March 2004
Single, Europe-Wide Strategy against Human Trafficking Advocated by Lithuania, as Human Rights Committee Concludes Review of Countrys Report
NEW YORK, 25 March (UN Headquarters) -- More international cooperation was necessary to ensure protection for victims of human trafficking as well as witnesses to the crime, Sarunas Adomavicius, Under-Secretary of Lithuanias Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the Human Rights Committee this morning.
Developing and coordinating a single Europe-wide anti-trafficking strategy should be seriously considered, he said in his detailed explanation of Lithuanias efforts to combat the problem. Due to the countrys geographic location, as well as other socio-economic factors, it had become a trafficking destination. A Europe-wide strategy would significantly reduce the transborder sex tourism industry, he told the 18-member expert panel, which monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, before going on to highlight Lithuanias border control procedures and its laws governing refugees and asylum seekers.
Addressing the experts questions on implementation of specific articles of the Covenant, he said that last April, the Parliament had ratified the major international conventions aimed at preventing trafficking and punishing traffickers. The Government, working to substantially improve and enhance the legal framework to combat trafficking, had approved in 2002 the Programme of Control and Prevention of Trafficking in People and Prostitution (2002-2004). The strategic goal of the programme was to eliminate the root causes of and reasons behind trafficking, and to develop a system of prevention measures, ultimately bringing an end to the practice.
Wrapping up the two-day review of Lithuanias compliance with the International Covenant, Committee Chairman Abdelfattah Amor of Tunisia said it was important for everyone to take note of what that small country had been able to achieve. Besides its accession to or ratification of international human rights instruments, Lithuania was rapidly adjusting and upgrading its legislation and harmonizing its laws with global norms.
He noted, however, that while Lithuania was moving in the right direction, it faced persistent problems regarding family violence, treatment of foreigners and measures to combat terrorism. Furthermore, it appeared that certain categories of foreigners were not adequately protected or recognized by state or local authorities. There was also the question of ethnic minorities or religious groups whose road to full participation in Lithuanian society was strewn with traps and obstacles.
The Human Rights Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Monday, 29 March for a second reading of its General Comment on Article 2 of the International Covenant.
The Human Rights Committee met this morning to conclude its consideration of Lithuanias second periodic report. It began by hearing the Lithuanian delegations responses to questions posed by the Committees experts yesterday (see Press Release HR/CT/652 of 24 March).
VYGANTE MILASIUTE, Senior Specialist in International Law in the Ministry of Justice, speaking about the restitution of property confiscated during the era of Soviet rule, said that Jews faced more specific problems than other religious groups. It was not easy to find data showing that present-day Jewish communities were the rightful heirs of those who had owned property in the mid-twentieth century.
She said there were two types of property: existing property and property destroyed during the Second World War. Lithuania could not be held responsible for the destruction of property by occupying Powers during the war, as the State could not restore property that no longer existed. A plan had been agreed on the awarding of compensation and land on which destroyed buildings had stood. However, there were as yet no details of how the plan would work.
On the possibility of challenging the constitutionality of certain legal acts under international standards, she said that an individual could not address the court directly. On offences punishable under the Criminal Code that entered into force last May, there were eight types of penalty. They included disenfranchisement, or deprivation of the right to election or appointment; community service; restriction of liberty; arrest for a short time; and life imprisonment.
Regarding pre-trial detention, she said minors and adults could be held separately, but in exceptional cases adults could be held together with minors with a prosecutors approval. The law did not specify which cases were exceptional, but the principle of isolation was understood, and the State was trying to ensure its application.
TOMAS ZILINSKAS, Deputy Director of International Relations and European Integration, Ministry of Interior, addressed the question of domestic violence, saying that the law provided neither special legal regulations nor a legal definition of the offence. Crisis and information centres had been established to work with victims and offenders, and the State planned to develop it further.
On the protection of children, he said a database was being established to track the sexual exploitation of children. It was not easy to determine the scope of violence against children, as it often involved close ties among family members. In addition, violence among children themselves was increasing.
TOMAS BLIZNIKAS, Permanent Mission of Lithuania to the United Nations, said the society considered a legal framework on teenage sexual education to be one of the rights of young people. The Ministry of Education ran two programmes concentrating on boys and girls in schools. The purpose of the first one was to help them understand puberty-related physiological and psychological changes. Another ministry programme was providing methodical preparation for teachers of teenagers going through various stages of maturity. Private entities, particularly pharmaceutical companies, frequently organized seminars on such subjects as the use of contraceptives and sexually transmitted diseases.
Lithuanias Response to Written Questions
SARUNAS ADOMAVICIUS, Under-Secretary of Lithuanias Ministry of Foreign Affairs, then addressed the Committees questions on implementation of specific articles of the Covenant, including the freedom of movement (Article 12), freedom of expression (Article 18) and political affiliation (Articles 19 and 22). He began his assessment with a detailed explanation of Lithuanias effort to combat human trafficking. Due to the countrys geographic location, as well as other socio-economic factors, it had become a destination. Last April, the Parliament had ratified the major international conventions aimed at preventing trafficking and punishing traffickers.
The Government, also working to substantially improve and enhance the legal framework to combat trafficking, had approved in 2002 the Programme of Control and Prevention of Trafficking in People and Prostitution (2002-2004). The strategic goal of the programme was to eliminate the root causes of and reasons behind trafficking, and to develop a system of prevention measures, ultimately bringing and end to the practice. The programme included an education and awareness-raising component, which targeted not only vulnerable women and children, but also aimed to boost social re-integration programmes for victims. The plan also targeted criminal trafficking networks.
Thus far, the programme had provided victims with various rehabilitative services, he continued. Following a scientific assessment of the situation of women and girls at risk, a methodology was developed that is now used to train social workers in the field. He said that Lithuania had made trafficking a criminal offense in 1998. Any person who earned his living from buying and selling a person would face two to 10 years in prison. During the fist six months of 2003, criminal proceedings had been instituted for eight cases of human trafficking in which 21 suspects and 18 victims had been identified. He stressed that international initiatives aimed at preventing human trafficking, specifically those targeting criminal networks, must be enhanced.
More international cooperation was necessary to ensure protection of victims as well as witnesses. He added that developing and coordinating a single Europe-wide strategy to combat trafficking should be seriously considered. Such a strategy would significantly reduce the transborder sex tourism industry. He went on to highlight Lithuanias border control procedures as well as its laws governing refugees and asylum seekers. Under the law on Refugee Status, aliens submitted applications to local police at border points or at the Foreigners Registration Centre. Aliens could also apply for asylum due to humanitarian reasons. Lithuania ensured the application of the principle of non-refoulement.
He added that asylum seekers could be detained for up to 48 hours, but only by court order. Courts could, however, pass a decision not to detain such persons and impose alternative detention after a review of his vulnerability or the danger he might pose to society.
On freedom of religion, Mr. ADOMAVICIUS described the three-tiered system Lithuania used to distinguish religious communities: traditional communities, communities recognized by the State, and other religious communities. Such distinctions were used not to discriminate against any religion but to recognize traditional forms of worship as part of Lithuanias heritage. The Law on Religious Communities and Associations recognized nine traditional religious communities. Other non-traditional religions could be granted State recognition as part of Lithuanias historical, spiritual and social heritage if they were backed by society and their instruction and rites were not contrary to laws or morality.
On disseminating knowledge about the Covenant, he said that the Ministry of Justice and the Judicial Council had drawn up a special training programme for judges, which focused on international human rights issues and the application and implementation of international treaties. In 2002, Lithuania had entered into a joint agreement with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to strengthen human rights education. The resultant initiatives had focused on creating special courses for teachers on human rights issues. He expected that a special course on human rights law would be introduced at secondary schools sometime later this year. He added that the text of the Covenant was included in every rights-oriented publication as well as textbooks on international human rights. The Covenant as well as Lithuanias compliance reports were also available on the Internet.
ALFREDO CASTILLERO HOYOS, expert from Panama, asked for information about requests for asylum made by refugees, particularly the question of a group of Chechens that had been turned back at the border. What measures had been, or would be, taken to ensure that the highest level of judges handled such requests?
He also asked what percentage of Lithuanians belonged to minorities and what percentage of minorities had the right to vote. What percentage of public and non-elective posts did minorities hold?
NISUKE ANDO, expert from Japan, asked whether other religious communities had been equally as mistreated as the Jews during the Soviet era. Had Lithuania as a State negotiated a reparation agreement with occupying Powers that might benefit those whose property had been confiscated? Did registered religious communities benefit as opposed to non-registered groups?
Regarding the labour sector, he asked how many trade unions Lithuania had and in what sectors. Did they have international links?
He also asked what procedure was used to report child abuse. Was there any network of non-governmental organizations that looked after abused children?
NIGEL RODLEY, Committee Vice-Chairman and expert from the United Kingdom, asked what the new Criminal Procedure Code would do to change the situation regarding arrest and detention once it entered into force? Could police still detain people without judicial order and for how long? Could they question detainees, and must a lawyer be present during questioning?
WALTER KALIN, expert from Switzerland, asked whether promises made under the asylum law were merely theoretical in light of the low numbers of those actually granted asylum.
HIPOLITO SOLARI-YRIGOYEN, expert from Argentina, asked whether conscientious objectors to military service could do alternative service. Could anyone invoke conscientious objection, or must they belong to a religion or pacifist organization? What criteria did the Governments special commission use in granting conscientious objection petitions, and how long did substitute service last?
The Expert from Poland asked the delegation for more information on Lithuanias measures aimed at improving the system of protecting witnesses to and victims of trafficking. He said he concurred with other experts who were disturbed at the low number of persons that had been granted asylum. Could the delegation provide more information on that issue? What happened to asylum seekers who were detained while there applications were undergoing judicial consideration? Could they move about free during that time?
RUTH WEDGEWOOD, expert from the United States, said she was curious to know if there were special accommodations made for children at the Foreigners Registration Centre. She also wondered if Lithuania had a group of so-called stateless people, who had been denied asylum there but refused to return to the Russian Federation or other countries.
FRANCO DEPASQUALE, expert from Malta, said it was clear that human trafficking, particularly prostitution and sexual tourism, was on the rise. But the number of charges brought against criminal networks or individuals in Lithuania had been surprisingly low. Did that really reflect the issue on the ground? Were records being kept on Lithuanian nationals prosecuted for trafficking by other countries? He also requested more information on labour issues, particularly regarding workers access to union lawyers to handle disputes.
NISUKE ANDO, expert from Japan, was concerned about the reproductive health of Lithuanian women. Was the Government offering any family planning services? Was assistance with child birth being provided?
MARTIN SCHEININ, expert from Finland, joined others in asking for more clarification on detention imposed on asylum seekers or refugees. Were they all kept at the Foreigners Registration Centre? Did they have access to lawyers of judges? Could denied applications for asylum be appealed?
STANISLAV VIDTMANN, Deputy Director-General of the National Minorities and Emigration Department, said that the national minorities in Lithuania ranged from several thousand Poles and Russians to several hundred Armenians, Greeks, Bulgarians and Hungarians. All Lithuanian citizens had equal rights to hold posts in the civil service and in State governance. There were many members of minorities in the government structure and in public institutions, and they had the right to establish ethnic political parties as well as to join ideological parties. They would participate in parliamentary elections later this year.
Ms. MILASIUTE said the specific law on the restitution of property did not adequately address the situation of Jewish groups -- it required amendments. Other groups did not suffer the same lack of religious communal authority. However, all religious communities had the possibility to claim property rights.
Regarding successors to previously existing religious communities, the criteria for recognition were not based on bloodlines. It would be problematic for non-registered religious communities to claim restitution.
On the right to strike, she said attempts had been made to create equilibrium between the public and private interests, particularly for those working in vital sectors. However, it was still not clear if the rights of anyone had been violated.
With respect to the training of judges, she said it was done through seminars, with some judges undertaking to train their colleagues. When judicial mistakes were made, there were judicial procedures to rectify them.
Regarding conscientious objection to military service, she said that a recent case involved two Jehovahs Witnesses who had been denied the right to alternative service. However, they had won their case on appeal.
JANAS VIDICKAS, Deputy Director-General of the Migration Department, Ministry of Interior, said that asylum seekers of Chechen origin were not allowed entry if they were coming from a safe third country except in cases of unaccompanied minors. A new law on foreigners was being drafted.
On the recognition of refugee status, he said temporary residence permits were granted on humanitarian grounds. All foreigners who were denied entry on humanitarian grounds had the right to appeal, and they could not be expelled pending appeal. Police had the right to detain foreigners for no longer than 48 hours and only the courts could authorize their detention for a longer period.
Mr. ZILINSKAS, addressing the question of trafficking in human beings, said Lithuania had a large network of non-governmental organizations providing support for victims. Regarding the prosecution of suspected traffickers, witnesses usually refused to identify those who had helped them go abroad to engage in prostitution. In some cases, trafficking victims did not know how much money was paid or to whom. Others participated of their own free will or were deceived into thinking they would be engaging in legal work.
Wrapping up the Committees two-day review of Lithuanias compliance with the International Covenant, Chairman ABDELFATTAH AMOR, expert from Tunisia, said he was left with the impression that a great deal had been accomplished thus far in order to ensure fundamental rights. And while the work was not finished, it was important for everyone to take note of what this small country had been able to achieve. Apart from its accession or ratification of international human rights instruments, Lithuania was rapidly adjusting and upgrading its legislation and harmonizing its laws with global norms.
The recent establishment of several ombudsmens offices with varied competencies to hear individual complaints or allegations of rights violations, while in these early stages appearing a little unwieldy, was a significant step that would only strengthen Lithuanias efforts to protect fundamental freedoms over time. The Governments efforts should be warmly welcomed, he added, praising the work being done in the national Human Rights Commission.
Lithuania was certainly moving in the rights direction, but unfortunately, he nevertheless had to say that he was troubled by persistent problems, including family violence, treatment of foreigners and the countrys measures to combat terrorism. While domestic violence was not specific to Lithuania, the Government was duty bound to do more to promote and protect the rights of families as well as children, and to ensure that all were free from violence.
It appeared that certain categories of foreigners were not adequately protected or recognized by state or local authorities, he continued. There was also the question of certain ethnic minorities or religious groups whose road to full participation in Lithuanian society was strewn with traps and obstacles. With that in mind, the Government had much work to do to ensure that the rights of foreigners, as well as refugees and asylum seekers, were protected.
On terrorism, he said there was no denying the international communitys urgent need to combat that scourge on all fronts. But it appeared that a panic had gripped the world in which terrorists were seen everywhere one looked. States also appeared to be jockeying for bragging rights before the Security Councils Counter-Terrorism Committee in overzealous attempts to see just how many anti-terrorist strategies they could develop and how fast. And while every effort should be made to combat terrorism in all its forms -- ill-defined as that might be -- human rights must be considered a priority. Lithuania would do well to ensure that its counter-terrorism measures fell within the parameters of international human rights norms.
* *** *