General Un Sokunthea found herself in the middle of an international row in December.
The "rescue" of 84 girls working as karaoke and massage hostesses at Chhai
Hour II hotel was followed by a dramatic breakout a day later, assisted by a mob
Sokunthea, the head of the government's Department of Anti-Human Trafficking and
Juvenile Protection, was officially warned by her superiors for conducting the initial
raid, prompting the United States Embassy and others to leap to her defense. She
spoke to Liam Cochrane on February 17 about a variety of issues.
Post: In April last year, you were very optimistic about the role of this department
in the fight against human trafficking. In 2004, how many raids occurred and how
Sokunthea: There were 393 cases that we took action on in 2004; 53 cases of sexual
transactions, 276 cases of rape against children, 31 cases of human trafficking and
22 cases of pornography. The figure of perpetrators who were arrested in 2004 increased
a small amount because in 2004 we [had] 5 cases [involving people] to be put in prison.
Seven perpetrators were put in prison last year. I would like to add that the number
of perpetrators increased [by] 173 perpetrators comparing to 2003; and we helped
and freed 552 victims [which] comparing to 2003, is an increase of 136 victims. So
the number of perpetrators and the number of victims increased because of the intervention
of police crackdowns.
Post: I understand that the condition of this interview is that I don't ask about
the Chhay Hour II case, but following that incident you were given a stern warning
from your boss and head of national police, Hok Lundy. How secure is your position
Sokunthea: If I don't speak, as you can see, I am still sitting here. I still lead
the work here so if I don't say anything, you can see for yourself.
Post: When will the inter-ministerial report on the ChhayHour II case be released?
Sokunthea: I don't know either because I am not the one on the committee.
Post: Do you think the findings will be free from political interference?
Sokunthea: I don't know what to say because I don't know who is the boss of the committee.
Post: After the controversy of this case amongst the international community, what
will the future hold for anti-trafficking efforts in Cambodia?
Sokunthea: This issue is bigger than the tsunami; it surprised the world even though
it didn't kill any human beings. My department has so far intervened in three cases
in cooperation with IJM [International Justice Mission] to have two perpetrators
put in prison and 42 charged.
Post: What lessons did you learn from the ChhayHour II case?
Sokunthea: There's a Khmer expression which says: "People make mistakes. One
should worry about those who refuse to accept [responsibility for] them and correct
their behavior. Those who do will become good persons."
Post: When the Post spoke to you in April 2004, you said, "Until now I'm very
proud to never have been accused [of corruption] by an NGO or from the public, because
since the establishment of this department there has been no corruption." Is
there corruption in the department now?
Sokunthea: Until now, we have not found anyone in the department who is corrupt.
We have just heard from the outside, but we have not yet found evidence to show someone
is corrupt. I ask that you get back to me if you know anything, because you are journalist,
so you may know more than us. Please inform us because in getting rid of corruption,
not only us but also journalists can participate. After establishing the department,
we already told you once that we are making efforts to overcome all difficulties
including being accused of having someone taking money. I try to educate and advise
the officers. Now, I believe we have some but the number is small.
Post: What would you do if you found out about corruption within the department?
Sokunthea: I would like to tell you that we have regulations in the police force.
The regulations of the police force include identifying those involved, suspensions,
Post: At about 2 p.m. on September 3 last year, police from your department conducted
a simultaneous raid on four karaoke shops in Kampong Speu. The police accused them
of selling sex and arrested the owners and staff, taking them to your headquarters
in Phnom Penh that evening. Some girls were released after allegedly giving police
their jewelry, others were sent to Afesip. The owners were each asked to pay approximately
$3,000 to your police or else their businesses would be closed down. At least 20
police officers were directly involved and the bribery occurred in this building.
What do you know about this?
Sokunthea: I would like to thank you for telling me about this. If you tell me, you
are my good partner.
Post: Twenty officers would account for more than 10 percent of your department.
What do you know about this case?
Sokunthea: The issue in Kampong Speu, I have heard about it and I also worked on
it. The police who received orders [to conduct the raid] included provincial police
and our departmental police. You say there were 20 police, it may be more than that
in the operation. I order that all cases be sent to the court. So the case has been
sent to Kampong Speu court. I am also investigating this problem and I also educated
[police officers] once already. I also heard that some police took money but not
as much as $3,000.
Post: Where did you hear about this?
Sokunthea: I just heard someone tell me about that and after hearing about it I called
the police who were directly involved in the case, to ask whether it was true or
not. If it is true, I will submit a report to the top level.
Post: What sort of report?
Sokunthea: It's not necessary for me to tell you about our investigation. But I would
like to tell you that I also heard the same as you and have not found any evidence
yet, so I have my force investigating the case [to decide] whether it is true or
not, and what level [the alleged corruption] is at.
Post: Who is in charge of this investigation?
Sokunthea: I don't want to mention any details.
Post: Before this raid, undercover officers went into each karaoke shop to try to
find evidence. One police officer reportedly had sex with a woman, then arrested
her and took her to Phnom Penh with everyone else. Once inside your department's
headquarters, he allegedly paid this woman $20 for the sex. Is this standard police
Sokunthea: Even when journalists get information from somewhere, they also may operate
under another guise. I would like to ask you as a journalist: if you want the facts,
what do you do?
Post: Well, if I was writing a story about prostitution, I don't think it's necessary
to sleep with a prostitute. It's a question of ethics. Is this acceptable ethics
in this department?
Sokunthea: The investigation [techniques] of police are the same in every country.
But sometimes some investigators go too far. For that, I do not know.
Post: Were did you work before taking this position?
Sokunthea: I was the deputy chief of the department of economic and financial planning
[within the Ministry of Interior] before I came here. I have a Bachelors degree in
Post: Did you also work for the Cambodian Red Cross?
Sokunthea: I would like to tell you that I am a member of the board of directors
of the Red Cross of which [the Prime Minister's wife] Bun Rany Hun Sen is the president.
Post: What is your relationship with Bun Rany?
Sokunthea: In the committee, all relationships are concentrated on serving human
needs. I would like to tell you a little bit about Bun Rany Hun Sen. Even though
she is the prime minister's wife, she works on everything to serve humanity and she
always stays close to natural disaster victims.
Post: Do you mean close physically or in her heart, to victims of disaster?
Sokunthea: If I talk about her good actions, you might think that I am on her side
as my president. I believe that you may know yourselves as a journalist that all
her actions show that she always stays close with her citizens. I would like to tell
you that everyday I wish all Cambodian women had the mind and will of Bun Rany Hun
Sen because she is a good mother, sister and a good family leader.
(Translation by Sam Rith)