A new report commissioned by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) calls for strengthening laws and criminal justice mechanisms to combat human trafficking in Lebanon, a destination country for victims smuggled from Eastern European countries such as Moldova.
Only 60 cases involving victims of human trafficking are officially identified every year in Lebanon, according the report, which is the result of research conducted between 2005 and 2007 by Statistics Lebanon, a Beirut-based organization, in cooperation with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
These include cases that are either processed through the courts or through the national Complaints Office.
“There could be more, but we cannot responsibly estimate unknown numbers,” says Cindy Smith from the University of Baltimore, who assisted with the report.
A major difficulty in identifying victims is the lack of any law in the Lebanese penal code concerning human trafficking.
Of the 30 cases processed through the courts under existing crime legislation, such as kidnapping, offenders received a $350 fine and a jail sentence of less than six months.
Victims are also afraid to speak out, dreading retribution or stigmatization, and many just do not know their rights.
Following the release of the report, UNODC is working to help Lebanon and Moldova tackle the issue, including by jointly developing materials to assist victims, governments and non-governmental organization (NGO) workers.
Efforts also include informing Lebanese migration authorities on the rights of trafficked victims from Moldova, and providing potential victims with information on support and protection services they can access upon their return to Moldova.
At the same time, UNODC is working with the Lebanese Ministry of Justice to introduce human trafficking as a crime in the country’s penal code. “We expect to produce draft legislation by the end of the year before it is eventually submitted to Parliament,” says Renee Sabbagh, UNODC National Coordinator in Beirut.