Amnesty denounces peacekeepers over Kosovo sex slavery

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The Independent Online

Sexual slavery involving girls as young as 11 has grown into a massive industry in the Balkans, because of demand for their services from the 40,000 international peacekeepers from Nato and the United Nations in Kosovo.

Sexual slavery involving girls as young as 11 has grown into a massive industry in the Balkans, because of demand for their services from the 40,000 international peacekeepers from Nato and the United Nations in Kosovo.

The extent of the Balkans bonded sex trade, controlled by organised criminal networks, was revealed yesterday in a report by the human rights organisation Amnesty International. The authors said hundreds of women and girls were being herded around the region and treated as the property of various crime lords.

The report, So Does That Mean I Have Rights?, has taken more than a year to compile and included dozens of interviews with trafficking victims. The number of places in Kosovo where trafficked girls may be exploited has increased from 18 in 1999 to more than 200 in 2003, with nightclubs, bars, restaurants, hotels and cafés all implicated, the report says.

It also includes the gruesome accounts of trafficking victims' experiences. Most of the women were brought from Moldova, Ukraine or Bulgaria with the promise of a well-paid job. They were told they would work as waitresses or babysitters. But they were forced into prostitution in the brothels of Kosovo.

Many of the victims said their travel documents were confiscated by traffickers before they were moved into the province illegally. The European hub for human trafficking is Serbia, but victims came from across south-east Europe and the Balkans. Many were from Albania or were Kosovan Albanians. Each of the women interviewed by Amnesty referred to those to whom they were sold or resold as their "owner". Their prices ranged from €50 (£33.70) to €3,500, depending on age and looks.

A 21-year-old woman told researchers that the man who at first offered her a job subsequently said, "we were his property". She added: "By buying us, he had the right to beat us, rape us, starve us and force us to have sex with clients."

A 12-year-old Albanian girl said that even in cold weather she had to wear thin dresses. "I was forced by the boss to serve international soldiers and police officers," she told researchers.

Women are virtually imprisoned, forced to work in bars and cafés by day and sexually service up to 15 clients by night. One said she was being forced to have sex more than 2,700 times in less than a year, including group sex and sex at gunpoint.

The report said international forces were "not only failing to protect the human rights of the women and girls, but are in many cases themselves using them for sexual gratification and are even allegedly involved in trafficking itself". By the end of 2003, only 10 UN police officers had been dismissed in connection with allegations related to trafficking.

By July 2003, between 22 and 27 troops serving in K-For were suspected of offences relating to trafficking. But none of them is known to have been prosecuted in their home countries, Amnesty researchers said.

They said that K-For, which has included troops from the United States, Britain and other European countries, and UN personnel, are immune from prosecution in Kosovo.

Sian Jones, one of the report's authors, said: "To date, no trafficked woman or girl has been able to obtain reparations for the trauma suffered and many have instead been imprisoned and deported. Peacekeepers must be held accountable for their role in this trade in human misery."

Nato troops entered Kosovo in June 1999, 11 weeks after Nato began bombing Serbian forces who were engaged in the "ethnic cleansing"of Kosovan Albanians. The bombing was aimed at ending the repressive politics of Serbia's leader at the time, Slobodan Milosevic.

Since then, the province has been run by the UN administration and an embryonic local government. Security is the responsibility of K-For and local, mostly ethnic, Albanian police.

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