Judges have declared human rights violations in a complaint from a Croatian woman who alleged she was forced into prostitution.
In it’s 19 July Chamber judgment in the case of S.M. v. Croatia (application no. 60561/14) the European Court of Human Rights held, by six votes to one, that there had been:
a violation of Article 4 (prohibition of slavery and of forced labour) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
As just satisfaction (Article 41), the Court held that Croatia was to pay the applicant 5,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage.
The applicant, Ms S.M., is a Croatian national who was born in 1990 and lives in Z.
The applicant lodged a criminal complaint in September 2012, alleging that a man had forced her into prostitution over several months in mid-2011. She alleged that the man, a former police officer, had driven her to meet clients, had made her give him half of the money she had earned from providing sexual services and had threatened her and punished her if she did not comply with his demands.
At the end of 2012 the man was indicted and the applicant was officially given the status of victim of human trafficking.
After an investigation, the man was brought to trial in 2013. However, he was acquitted of forcing the applicant into prostitution. The courts found the applicant’s testimony incoherent and unreliable.
They therefore concluded that the prosecution had failed to provide sufficient evidence for a conviction, and that the applicant had given sexual services voluntarily.
An appeal by the State Attorney’s Office was dismissed in January 2014, while a constitutional complaint by the applicant was declared inadmissible in June of the same year.
The applicant alleged in particular that the authorities had failed to respond adequately to her complaint and that Croatia lacked a proper legal framework to deal with such issues.
First, the European court ruled that Article 4 could be applied in cases such as the applicant’s involving human trafficking and exploitation of women for the purposes of prostitution, even if there had been no international element to her case.
The European court then went on to find that, although there was an adequate legal framework in Croatia for criminalising trafficking in human beings, forced prostitution and exploitation of prostitution, there had been shortcomings in the authorities’ investigation into her case.
In particular, they had not interviewed all the possible witnesses and, in finding that she had voluntarily given sexual services to acquit the accused, had taken no account of international laws on human trafficking according to which the consent of the victim was irrelevant.