A landmark human trafficking case in Argentina has ended with all defendants being absolved of all charges, underscoring the difficulties of securing successful prosecutions for such cases.
In what Clarin describes as a “scandalous decision,” a court in the northern province of Tucuman absolved 13 people accused of the kidnapping and disappearance of “Marita” Veron, who was 23 when she was last seen in 2002.
The case had gripped Argentina with horrific details of human trafficking in the northwest of the country, uncovered by Veron’s mother Susana Trimarco during a long campaign to find her daughter.
Trimarco’s search, during which she visited brothels and infiltrated human trafficking rings under the guise of being a former prostitute looking to buy women, led to dozens of victims being rescued and the passage of legislation that made human trafficking a crime.
It won Trimarco a Nobel Peace Prize nomination, a US State Department Woman of Courage award in 2007, and a human rights award from President Cristina Fernandez last week.
The defendants, who faced 25 years behind bars, had always proclaimed their innocence, claiming they ran whiskey bars, not brothels.
Following the verdict, which sparked outrage throughout the courtroom, Trimarco left visibly upset, with her lawyer telling reporters "it is absolutely clear that this is an act of corruption."
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The unanimous verdict, which has shocked Argentina, highlights the immense challenges of attempting to tackle human trafficking using the judicial system. The judges said that despite testimony from more than 130 witnesses, including a dozen trafficking victims rescued by Trimarco, there was no physical evidence to link the defendants to Veron, and no trace of her whereabouts. A victim is typically bought and sold several times before ending up in forced prostitution, which means proving the responsibility of individual traffickers can be near impossible.
According to a US Department of Justice study, cooperation and testimony from the victim is crucial for securing a successful prosecution in a human trafficking case, something which was obviously impossible in the case of Veron since she remains missing.
The US State Department’s 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report said Argentina was still failing to meet its minimum standards on tackling human trafficking, although it was making significant progress. Authorities obtained 19 human trafficking convictions in 2011, compared to 15 in 2010.