UN, SFOR involved in Bosnian prostitution

SARAJEVO, May 19, 2000 -- (Reuters) UN police in Bosnia and one member of a NATO-led force have been involved in prostitution and a trade in women that the Balkan country should do more to prevent, a UN report said on Thursday.

The report accused the authorities of going after the victims of trafficking rather than the true culprits. It said the women are often denied basic legal rights when detained.

"Bosnia-Herzegovina has emerged as a significant destination point for women trafficked from Eastern Europe," said the report released by the UN mission in Bosnia and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The two agencies said they had dealt with 40 cases of suspected trafficking of people in the year to March, involving 182 women.

Most were in their 20s but five were under 18.

"The women in these cases were almost all foreign nationals, hailing from five countries - Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Romania and the Ukraine," it said.

"In approximately 14 cases...there was evidence of complicity by police, mostly local police but also some international police, as well as foreign military (SFOR troops)," the report said.

"All these groups were implicated as clients, though only local police and one SFOR member were apparently involved in buying and selling the women," the report said.

The UN International Police Task Force (IPTF) oversees the restructuring of Bosnia's police while the 20,000-strong NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) safeguards the peace.


The report said that an international civilian member of SFOR reportedly paid 7,000 German marks ($3,200) in November 1999 to a bar owner in the eastern Serb-held town of Vlasenica for one woman from Romania and another from Moldova.

"As a member of SFOR, the man was immune from prosecution by local authorities. For unstated reasons, NATO declined to waive that immunity," the report said.

"On the basis of his misconduct the man was relieved of his duties and a few days later was barred from the SFOR area of operations. He left Bosnia and no further action was taken."

SFOR was not immediately available for comment.

In 1998, NATO dismissed allegations by the Spanish newspaper El Mundo that its soldiers were involved in child prostitution and drug trafficking in Bosnia.

UN spokesman Douglas Coffman told Reuters it could not prove allegations against officers of the international police force. "Had we been able to prove the allegations we would have punished them severely," he said.

The UN report said that most of the suspected trafficking was reported in or near the country's Serb republic - which with the Moslem-Croat federation makes up Bosnia - in some federation cantons and the neutral northern Brcko district.

A significant part of the trade was reported at the vast, unregulated "Arizona Market" which has several brothels. It is in northern Bosnia, on the boundary between the federation and Serb Republic and near Croatia and Yugoslavia.

"In general, government authorities do not fully understand the complexities of the trade in human beings nor do they comprehend its scope. Law enforcement is often complicit, either overtly or by silence and failure to act," the report said.

Original article