High-level representatives from Cambodia and five other nations yesterday signed a joint declaration reaffirming their commitment to collaborate in the fight against human trafficking, though the meet placed a notable lack of emphasis on confronting the corruption that facilitates the trade.
The signing closed the fourth inter-ministerial meeting of the Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative against Trafficking (COMMIT), coordinated by the United Nations Action for Cooperation against Trafficking in Persons (UN-ACT), during which delegates from Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam also agreed to a new four-year subregional action plan to combat the issue.
As part of the joint declaration, the six countries pledged to achieve the goal of “eradicating any situation where human beings are traded, bought, sold, abducted, forced into marriage, and placed and maintained in exploitative situations”.
The Asia-Pacific region is home to an estimated 11.7 million victims of human trafficking – more than half of the 20.9 million global total – according to figures from the International Labour Organization.
The Greater Mekong subregion witnesses some of the most severe forms of exploitation in the region, including slavery-like labour conditions, baby trafficking and forced sex work. A survey of more than 1,000 trafficking victims from the subregion by the International Organization for Migration, which was presented during the three-day event, saw almost half report being subjected to physical or sexual violence during trafficking, while more than 60 per cent reported never being paid.
Those realities drew frank acceptance from delegates regarding the deficiencies of efforts to address the problems.
“The human traffickers have abused Vietnam’s open-door policy for integration, and gaps in state management regarding marriages, adoption, labour export and tourism,” said Vietnam’s Deputy Minister of Public Security Lieutenant General Le Quy Vuong.
However, despite their candour, none of the delegates mentioned corruption in their keynote speeches. A representative of an international organisation participating at the event said on the sidelines of the meeting that corruption is only addressed indirectly in the subregional action plan.
A copy of the action plan was unavaialble as of press time.
Yet according to UN-ACT Regional Project Manager Annette Lyth, human trafficking “cannot exist without corruption and it cannot be solved if we don’t fight corruption”.
While Lyth was keen to emphasise that the failure to explicitly mention corruption did not necessarily mean an unwillingness to confront it, she remained categorical on the need to address it.
“This fight has to be two-track: one focusing on trafficking as such, but one also focusing on corruption.”
In an interview, however, Cambodia’s Minister of Women’s Affairs and vice-chair of the National Committee on Counter Trafficking in Persons Dr Ing Kantha Phavi disagreed, saying profit, rather that corruption, was at the root of trafficking.
“Yes of course it is a priority, but human trafficking is a lucrative business; there is a demand and there is a supply,” she said.