The District Court of Nicosia has convicted a company and issued a fine of €126,000 against it on the grounds of trafficking and exploitation of human beings. KISA considers that the conviction of this particular company is of utmost significance. Despite that, however, questions arise in relation to the decision not to adjudicate on the issue of compensation to the victims of exploitation, as well as the decision to suspend any judicial proceedings against the owner and the director of the accused company. Precisely because of the handling of the case by the Prosecution, the victims of trafficking have proceeded with a civil case against the Republic of Cyprus and the accused persons, with the view to finally receive justice.
The initial complaint was made by KISA on 24/08/2011 through a letter to the office of combating trafficking in human beings in which it was mentioned that migrants, who worked in farms handled by the company Comet Hatcheries LTD in the Nicosia District, had suffered exploitation at the premises of their employment. The charges contained in the indictment included labour exploitation and submission to servitude using threats, as well as the charge of fraudulent theft.
During the reading of the charges the defendants pleaded not guilty, while for the period of two years the hearing was being postponed based on the absence of the director of the accussed company, who, according to his lawyers, is suffering from serious health conditions. In June 2015, the decision of the Attorney General to suspend the criminal case against the director, was announced at the Court based on the grounds of health-related issues which, according to his doctors, prevented him from attending the court proceedings. The suspension of the prosecution against the person in question was the primary goal of the traffickers as this resulted in the acquittal of all natural persons who committed this serious crime.
In practice, the accused company has, with the consent of the criminal investigation authorities, accepted all responsibility for the acts committed by the owners and directors of the company, with the view to protect them from the consequences of their criminal acts. The company has admitted that since July 2007 up until September 2011, has exploited the work of migrant workers submitting them to a form of servitude. More specifically, the company forced the migrants to continue working in poultry farms, that were managed by the company in various villages in the Nicosia District, threatening them that if they did not comply it would deport them. From each migrant worker salaries corresponding up to ten months of work and the value of which reached up to €6,650 had been withheld by the said company. Furthermore, the company in question admitted that it had fraudulently stolen €900 from one of its migrant workers with the excuse that this money would be used to extent his residence permit in the Republic of Cyprus.
It is KISA’s set position that the state must pay utmost importance to the prosecution of crimes related to trafficking in human beings and labour exploitation. These types of criminal acts must be firmly decided not only by the criminal investigation authorities, but also by the justice system. It is noted that the domestic law in relation to those convicted in cases of trafficking in human beings, provides for penalties that can go up to 20 years in prison.
At the same time, we reinstate the importance of determination on the part of the state when dealing with cases of trafficking and exploitation of human beings for the immediate support and protection of the victims. Simultaneously, the decision of the court not to adjudicate in relation to the victims’ reimbursement, negatively affects the victims not only at a financial level but, most importantly, at an ethical level as they reasonably feel that for once more they are being treated unfairly.
As far as the decision of the court in relation to the case of Comet Hatcheries LTD is concerned, it is likely that the Republic of Cyprus will also be held responsible as the handling of the case by the Prosecution has left no option to the victims but to proceed with civil proceedings against the Republic of Cyprus as well as the accused company and its director.
In light of all of the above, KISA calls on the state to immediately proceed:
- To the effective resolution of the weaknesses presented in prosecution and criminalisation of perpetrators-traffickers and the effective restitution for the victims of human trafficking, including effective access to their right to be compensated.
- To implement the commitments and responsibilities that the government has assumed regarding an independent and in depth assessment of the effectiveness of the action plan of the RoC in combating trafficking.
- To take up the initiative for the institutionalisation of effective cooperation between relevant state services and NGOs that are involved in matters of combating trafficking in human beings.
- To establish an effective system that allows access to the rights of victims of human trafficking in order for them to be re-integrated into the society avoiding the danger of re-victimisation.