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Thursday, 18 May, 2000, 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK
Israeli sex trade under fire
Tel Aviv
Israel: The promised land, but not for all
Israel has been criticised for failing to protect the rights of foreign women smuggled into the country to work as prostitutes.

The human rights group, Amnesty International, said foreign women forced into prostitution rings were treated as criminals, rather than victims, by Israeli authorities.

It urged Israel to ensure the safety of the victimised women, and to strengthen co-operation with those countries from where women were being sent into Israel.

In response, Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin called for legislation to be prepared that would prohibit trade in human beings.

Abused then deported

At present, Israel has laws against sexual harrassment, soliciting and pimping, but not slavery or trafficking.

Yossi Beilin, Justice Minister
Beilin wants to redess the situation fast

The Amnesty report said that each year hundreds of women were kidnapped or lured into Israel's sex industry, where they were bought and sold, auctioned, held in debt bondage, raped and tortured.

The women often had their passports and plane tickets confiscated.

The report said that many were then arrested by police during raids on brothels and massage parlours and eventually deported.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee made similar allegations in 1998.

Russian gangs

Amnesty said that Russian-based criminal gangs had used the influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union into Israel as a cover to sneak in an estimated 10,000 prostitutes over the past decade.

We have to put a stop to it (trafficking) quickly until it is only a bad memory

Israel's Justice Minister

It said that such gangs poured $4bn a year into Israel, much of it in money-laundering schemes.

Mr Beilin called for action so that the traffic would "be stopped fast and will turn into a bad memory".

An adviser to Mr Beilin, Amir Abramovitch, said that the minister was planning to set up a high commissioner for human rights within a year to deal with such violations.

Alleged Russian criminals
Amnesty blames Russian criminal gangs

Israeli officials maintain that the prosecution of pimps and gang members is difficult because some women fail to co-operate with the police.

Amnesty admitted that many of the women, who were illegal aliens, feared they would be jailed or deported without having a chance to apply for asylum under international law if they filed complaints with the police or testified in court.

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