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HRW exhorts donors to seek policy change

HUMAN Rights Watch has called on international donors to pressure the government to close detention centres where sex workers are allegedly held against their will and abused.

A report released yesterday by the United States-based watchdog drew from interviews with more than 90 sex workers, some of whom accused law enforcement officials of engaging in severe beatings and rape.

At a press conference yesterday, the group said donors funding antitrafficking measures and police training should review and potentially suspend their contributions until the centres are closed and measures are put in place to punish offending officials.

“This is not a problem that cannot be dealt with,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW. “The inaction of UN groups and embassies have aided and abetted the situation.”

The report calls on four donors, the US, European Union, Australia and Japan, to “review all funding, programming and activities designed to assist Cambodia’s police and Ministry of Social Affairs”.

We will work with our partners as well as the [government] to make sure any abuse is addressed.

However, the US and the EU said yesterday after the press conference that they were committed to maintaining their support of the Cambodian government.
In a statement, the US embassy said that over the past three years it had provided US$1.5 million for programmes that “helped train Cambodian police officers and staff from relevant NGOs on victim-sensitive approaches to trafficking cases”.

The embassy also said it “strongly supported the passage of the anti-trafficking articles included in the Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation”.

HRW and other groups have taken issue with the law’s implementation.

The HRW report said USAID, the Unites States’ development arm, was set to give a total of $7.3 million between August 2006 and September 2011 to anti-trafficking measures.

Michelle Labeeu, chargé d’Affaires ad interim of the European Commission’s delegation to Cambodia, said the EU was familiar with the issues raised in the HRW report.

“We are aware of the report about the abuses of sex workers in Cambodia, and we are following this issue very closely,” she said.

“We will work with our partners as well as the Government of Cambodia to make sure that any abuse is addressed by the relevant authorities of Cambodia.”

She said funding from the EU for human rights projects including anti-trafficking measures would total €1.2 million ($1.5 million) in 2010, up from €1 million the year before.

The Australian embassy said in an email that A$21 million (US$18.4 million) had been committed to the five-year Asia Regional Trafficking in Persons (ARTIP) Project, an initiative to prevent human trafficking in Southeast Asian countries including Cambodia.

The Japanese embassy said it did not have records of any bilateral aid going to the Social Affairs Ministry, and that it could not disclose the amount of money going to the ministry through international organisations as of press time.

Officials at the Interior and Social Affairs ministries could not be reached for comment.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY TANG KHYHAY

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