The Wall Street Journal JANUARY 8, 2010
Rights Court Raises Sex-Trafficking Oversight
By PAULA PARK
The European Court of Human Rights ruled for the first time since it
was created in 1998 that sex trafficking is a violation of antislavery
conventions, in the case of a 20-year-old Russian woman who died two
weeks after she came to Cyprus to work in a cabaret where she was
Although trafficking is already illegal in many of the European
countries the court covers, the ruling spells out the duties of those
states in trafficking cases — by saying that civil authorities from
the victim’s country of origin as well as the transit and the
destination where the sexual exploitation occurs are obliged to
investigate the crime and enforce laws against it. The court ruled
that both Russia and Cyprus had failed to adequately investigate the
sex-trafficking of Oxana Rantseva and that Cyprus violated her right
to life by holding her in custody without charge, placing her in the
custody of her traffickers and failing to investigate her death in
“When the police have a credible suspicion of someone being
trafficked, at that stage they have to make investigations in order to
protect the unsuspecting victims,” said Andrea Coomber, legal director
of Interights, a U.K. charity that submitted arguments for the
plaintiff in the case.
The court has ruled previously in labor-trafficking cases. But it has
never ruled on a sex-trafficking case because victims, often under
constant threat of violence, have little access to the justice system
in any country, Ms. Coomber said. Yet the crime is illegal in most of
the 47 countries that have signed the European Convention on Human
Rights, which lays out democratic rights across the Continent. The
European Court of Human Rights enforces the convention — and provides
a legal forum for people whose rights are violated by the state but
who fail to get redress in that state.
While the ruling doesn’t change existing laws it declares that victims
have a right to expect vigorous enforcement of the laws and they can
seek sanctions and penalties from governments who fail to implement
The case was brought by the woman’s father, Nikolay Rantsev, who
campaigned in both countries for an investigation of her death.
The court found that Cyprus had violated the girl’s right to life and
right to protection under the law and ordered the government to pay
€40,000 ($57,600) in damages. Russia was found to have violated the
European conventions against slavery and ordered to pay €2,000. Mr.
Rantsev was also awarded €3,150 for costs.
Both countries have been criticized by law-enforcement authorities –
Russia as being a major place of origin for trafficking and Cyprus as
a destination. Ludmila Mikhailovna Churkina, the lawyer representing
Russia, didn’t respond to requests to comment on Russia’s problems.
She lauded the ruling for prohibiting “Cyprus businessmen and cabaret
owners to use Russian Ukrainian and other young women from being
included in trafficking sex exploitation.” Michael Katsounotos, a
spokesman for the Cypriot police, defended its record. “This criticism
is exaggerated because we make our efforts … for the whole country,’
Oxana Rantseva, entered Cyprus with an “artiste” visa March 5, 2001,
and on March 28 around 6:30 a.m. was found dead below the fifth-story
apartment she had been staying in. The police found a bedspread
loosely tied to the balcony. Mr. Rantsev demanded an investigation and
the Russian ambassador repeated his request several times before
Cypriot authorities actually staged an inquest in December 2001.
On March 28 the cabaret owner, Marios Athanasiou, found Ms. Rantseva
in a discotheque and took her to the police saying she was in the
country illegally. “I wanted Oxana to leave so that I could bring
another girl to work in the cabaret,” he said at the inquest,
according to ECHR documents.
Around 4 a.m. the police released the woman into Mr. Athanasiou’s
custody. He took Ms. Rantseva to the apartment; and he said he slept
in the living room. A corraborating witness, the wife of the apartment
owner, confirmed some of Mr. Athanasiou’s statements but gave two
separate and conflicting descriptions of the events. Unsatisfied, Mr.
Rantsev sought redress with the Russian authorities and then with the
“Although the facts had occurred in 2001 there had not yet been a
clear explanation as to what had happened,” the ruling said.
Write to Paula Park at email@example.com
Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A3
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