Promotion of the Rights of Trafficked Persons in Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia with Emphasis on Legal Support – A Human Rights-Based Approach

 1 January 2013 – 31 December 2015



In partnership with the Netherlands Helsinki Committee, The Human Rights League (Slovakia), ADPARE – The Association for Developing Alternative Practices for Reintegration and Education (Romania) and Association Pro Refugiu (Romania)  

Legal aid for trafficked persons

One of the problems many countries have in common, including Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia, is the lack of access of victims of trafficking to legal counseling and aid. An adequate referral system which ensures that victims are informed about the relevant judicial proceedings and their rights from their very first contact with the authorities is missing. There are very few lawyers trained in working with trafficked persons. State-funded legal aid is scarce and often limited to no more than the formal presence of a lawyer during the trial. Even if formally victims have a right to claim compensation for the damages they suffered, in practice such claims are rarely awarded and, if they are, hardly ever executed. Provisions, such as the use of closed hearings or audiovisual means, that might protect the safety and privacy of victims are not effectively used. Many actors in the judicial system, including police, prosecutors, judges and lawyers, lack knowledge about trafficking and its psychological, social and health impacts on its victims. And in some cases victims are disrespectfully treated by representatives of the judicial system itself. As a result trafficked persons face major barriers in accessing justice and criminal proceedings often lead to their secondary victimization. At the same time, NGOs are not trained in providing legal counseling and only have limited funds to pay for legal aid and representation. Despite increasing awareness that trafficking and the exploitation of human beings under forced labour or slavery-like conditions constitute severe human rights violations, States tend to focus on the prosecution and punishment of the perpetrators, while the protection of the rights of trafficked persons lags behind. Often victims are purely seen as instrumental for the prosecution with little regard for the far reaching impact testifying against their exploiters may have on their current and future wellbeing, safety and life.

“Promotion of the Rights of Trafficked Persons in Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia with Emphasis on Legal Support – A Human Rights-Based Approach” is a 3-year project financed by the European Commission. This project was developed to respond to some of the challenges listed above. It is aimed at:

  • Increasing knowledge of lawyers and social workers about trafficking, its impact and the legal rights of trafficked persons
  • Enhancing victims’ access to legal counseling, aid and representation during criminal and other legal proceedings
  • Increasing the capacity of NGOs and social workers to provide legal information and counseling to trafficked persons
  • Enhancing the capacity of NGOs to effectively advocate for the protection and promotion of the rights of trafficked persons as victims and witnesses of a serious crime and human rights violation.


The project started with a national research in all three countries to map the current situation in regard to the position of victims of trafficking in criminal and other relevant legal proceedings. The research was conducted in the first half of 2013. A questionnaire was designed to guide the research, based on the minimum standards in regard to the treatment of trafficked persons as laid down in EU Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims, the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking and other relevant international standards. This resulted in three national reports analysing the current situation in Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia. The reports look per country at the legal provisions pertaining to the position of victim/witnesses of trafficking, as well as at their implementation in practice based on the experiences of the partner NGOs and information from interviews with victims. Attention is also paid to the national definition of trafficking and the way it is applied in practice. In particular whether it offers equal protection without discrimination to all possible victims, including sex workers and victims of trafficking and exploitation for other purposes than prostitution.

The Bulgarian report can be found here.

The reports will feed into national trainings of social workers and lawyers and act as a basis for lobby and advocacy by the partner NGOs. The outcomes of the national researches will also be discussed in Round Table sessions with the relevant stakeholders, including law enforcement, judges and prosecutors. Based on the outcomes of the researches, a group of 15-20 social workers per country will be trained to provide legal counseling and information to trafficked persons. Per country also 20 lawyers will be trained to provide legal aid to trafficked persons and defend their interests and rights during criminal and other legal proceedings. The trainings will be followed by a number of expert meetings on different topics, depending on the national situation. Aim is to create a sustainable network of social workers and lawyers, able to provide legal counseling and aid to trafficked persons, which will continue to operate after the closure of the project. During the project a leaflet will be developed for trafficked persons to inform them about their rights, including a list of trained lawyers who can provide specialized legal aid. The leaflet will be distributed among all actors that are or might come in contact with (potential) victims of trafficking, including NGOs, social welfare centres, police and embassies. Next to the training of social workers and lawyers, a model will be developed to systematically monitor court cases with respect to the treatment of the victim/witnesses concerned and the protection of their rights and interests. The monitoring will be carried out by law students who will be specifically trained to this aim. The outcomes will provide the relevant stakeholders with concrete recommendations on how to improve the treatment of trafficking victims in light of the relevant European and international standards. A joint summary of the national reports and the outcomes of the monitoring process, identifying shared problems, will be made for regional advocacy. In the third year a lobby & advocacy training will be organized for the partner NGOs to use the outcomes of the project for national, regional and international lobby & advocacy to enhance the position of trafficked persons in criminal and other relevant legal proceedings. The training will be followed by media events, Round Table meetings with national stakeholders, international experts and a selection of the trained lawyers and various other advocacy activities, depending on the country.