Protection of privacy and data confidentiality on victims of human trafficking is the most important task


Prevention of the secondary victimization of violence victims must become a priority in the actions of all professionals who deal with their protection. This was the conclusion of a meeting held today (June 24, 2021) at the premises of the Red Cross in Subotica. The meeting entitled “Multisectoral exchange of local practices: How we protect the right to privacy and data confidentiality of victims of human trafficking and other forms of gender-based violence?" was attended by 17 members of the Local Anti-Trafficking Team of the City of Subotica, including representatives of local self-government, National Employment Service, the police, Higher Public Prosecutor’s Office from Subotica, Health Center, Center for Social Work, Red Cross, Roma Education Center, NGO Stav+, and Tijana Juric Foundation, as well as the local Ombudswoman of the City of Subotica.

The meeting was opened by Mitar Djuraskovic from the Police Directorate, Office of the Ministry of the Interior for Coordination of Anti-Trafficking Activities, who emphasized that Instructions on the conduct of police officers in cases of suspected trafficking are currently in the final phase of drafting and that a particular focus is on the duty of police officers to inform a presumed victim about their rights, including the rights to confidentiality and privacy.

Zlatko Petrovic, a senior advisor from the office of the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection, stressed that this is the third Law on Personal data protection in our country and that the last one came into force in August 2019. He stated that there are numerous challenges in the application of this law, and reminded of the obligation that every public institution must have a person who will monitor personal data protection in order to ensure the integrity and confidentiality of such data, and prevent their accidental or intentional disclosure to the public. Zlatko Petrovic also stated that the Commissioner filed a total of 17 reports to public prosecutors’ offices for criminal offences under Article 146 of the Criminal Code, but that none of the Commissioner's reports received its epilogue, and the public prosecutors’ offices failed to provide sufficient information on their actions. In addition, public prosecutors’ offices do not use their mandate fully during the investigation, so the cases remain "pending" between the prosecutor's office and the police. The prosecutors’ offices do not initiate court proceedings, which is why there is no judicial (criminal-legal) protection in cases of violations of citizens’ personal data and privacy, concluded Petrovic.

Senior Public Prosecutor, Branislav Rankov, from Subotica emphasized that victims of human trafficking can be granted the status of a particularly sensitive witness, which entails a series of measures that should enable better protection of victims in the proceedings against human traffickers. The prosecutor pointed out the importance of protecting the rights of victims to privacy and personal data confidentiality in criminal proceedings, as well as the strict care that must be taken to prevent the identity of victims from being revealed to the general public, along with other information that is part of the proceedings and may cause direct harm to victims. He recognized the role of the Local Anti-Trafficking Team in prevention and awareness-raising, and in the education of both professionals and citizens on this important topic.

Kristina Kalajdzic from Partners for Democratic Change reminded that the organization she comes from analyzed the actions of courts and prosecutors’ offices in cases of personal data protection in the period from 2015 to mid-2020; specifically, the practice of courts on the criminal offence of Unauthorized Collection of Personal Data from Article 146 of the Criminal Code, and the actions of public prosecutors’ offices. "Since 2015, 28 cases have been formed before the courts in Serbia under Article 146 of the Criminal Code. Two cases were initiated by the indictment of the public prosecutor's office, and 26 by private lawsuits of citizens. Only 2 cases ended with a conviction, both with a suspended sentence. The criminal divisions of the courts in Serbia have not yet received a case with a significant violation of privacy, either in terms of the seriousness of the consequences for victims, or in terms of the number of victims,” she said, calling for closer cooperation between civil society organizations and state institutions in order to protect the right to privacy and data confidentiality of all citizens, especially victims of violence.

The meeting represents support to institutions and organizations in strengthening the strategic system and response to human trafficking in accordance with the Strategy for Prevention and Suppression of Trafficking in Human Beings, especially Women and Children, and Protection of Victims for the period 2017-2022. It also dealt with strengthening local mechanisms, mapping risks and challenges in preserving the right to privacy and personal data confidentiality on victims of trafficking and other forms of gender-based violence. A particular focus of the meeting was on the promotion of inclusive and strategic partnership between local civil society organizations and institutions regarding issues in the field of protection of the right to privacy and personal data confidentiality of victims of trafficking and other forms of gender-based violence.

In addition to the members of the Local Anti-Trafficking Team from Subotica, this meeting was attended by members of the Local Anti-Trafficking Teams from the cities of Sombor and Kikinda, as well as from the Roma Association Novi Becej. There were also representatives of the Provincial Ombudsman, a representative of the Center for the Protection of Trafficking Victims with the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Social and Veteran Affairs, as well as representatives of the NGO sector from Partners for Democratic Change and Atina - Citizens’ Association for combating trafficking in human beings and all forms of gender-based violence.

The meeting was held within the project “Reclaiming Privacy: A Tool to Fight Oppression”, jointly implemented by Partners for Democratic Change, SHARE Foundation, A11 Initiative, “Da se zna!” Association, Belgrade Open School and Atina, with the assistance of the European Union. This project represents support to human rights defenders, civil society organizations and vulnerable groups in protecting their right to privacy.

Photos from the event, as well as other articles, can be found via the following links: