Reuters, April 27, 2001
OSCE Slams Balkans Over Enforced Prostitution
VIENNA, Apr 27, 2001 - The OSCE's human rights envoy accused Balkan countries on Thursday of failing to tackle enforced prostitution and said some international peacekeeping troops were involved in it.
"The countries in the region still consider this as a very secondary problem, if not a necessary evil or a source of benefit," Gerard Stoudmann told a news conference ahead of an international conference into the problem on Friday.
Stoudmann, director of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights -- part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) -- said official corruption and indifference were hampering efforts to tackle the problem in the region.
Criminal gangs force women, often from former Communist states, into becoming prostitutes by kidnapping them and taking them abroad, or promising a better life in another country and taking away their passport, forcing them to sell their bodies to buy their freedom.
Stoudmann said the situation was particularly bad in Albania and Montenegro, but said some of the worst problems were also "in places where the international community has a mandate -- Kosovo and Bosnia."
"The international community in many cases is part of the problem, and in some cases not only as consumers," Stoudmann said.
He declined to elaborate how peacekeepers might be involved but said he planned to present evidence in due course.
Helga Konrad, a former Austrian government minister who chairs a regional task force on human trafficking, said some studies suggested around 30 percent of international troops were customers of women forced into prostitution.
"I am sure that the influx of men in uniforms creates a market for sex work and, of course, traffickers take advantage of the situation," she told the news conference.
Estimates of the numbers forced into prostitution in the Balkans, mainly young women and girls, range from 175,000 to half a million.
"We really have to become aware that trafficking in human beings has become a big business, generating billions of dollars to organized crime groups," Konrad said.
Stoudmann said the problem was not confined to south-east Europe and many young women were also forced into prostitution in western countries, especially Germany, Switzerland, Italy and The Netherlands.
"I am not sure...that the international community and the states of the region have reached a satisfactory level of determination in fighting this," he said.
"A lack of political will and determination is something which is unfortunately the main factor in the countries in south-eastern Europe."
Some police and government officials were making honest efforts to rescue victims and capture traffickers, Stoudmann said. But he added that they were often thwarted by corruption at all levels of government in the region.