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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Malaysia-Cambodia MoU set to be inked

Malaysia-Cambodia MoU set to be inked


A woman training to work as a maid abroad cries at a recruitment centre in Phnom Penh in 2011. Dozens of women were being held against their will by the firm until being freed the following day. Photograph: Will Baxter/Phnom Penh Post

The Malaysian government has finally agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding with Cambodia on combating human trafficking between the two countries, officials from both countries said yesterday.

The MoU, largely directed at addressing the complaints of maid abuse that led to a ban on Cambodian domestic workers’ employment in Malaysia last October, should be signed today, following a two-day closed-door bilateral meeting, officials said.

However, they were still unwilling to share many particulars of the MoU’s contents, in an approach that is consistent with the governments’ opacity throughout the off-and-on negotiation process, and which has drawn criticism from civil society groups. Yesterday’s meeting, meanwhile, was closed to members of the media.

Syuhaida Binti Abdul Wabhab Zen, deputy undersecretary of Malaysia’s Ministry of Home Affairs and head of the seven-person Malaysian delegation working on the MoU in Phnom Penh, said on the sidelines that Malaysia was committed to working with Cambodia both to protect Cambodian workers in Malaysia and to hold traffickers accountable.

Malaysia did not want to postpone any longer the signing of the MoU that had been stalled in the drafting process since 2007, she said.

“I am sorry that we postponed several times discussing the MoU between the two countries, because we had difficulties co-operating between our officials and the relevant parties,” she said. “But now we have committed to finalising the draft with Cambodia before its official signing.”

According to San Arun, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Woman Affairs, “Malaysia was busy doing MoUs with China and the United States, so they postponed ours three times, and we waited nearly five years to complete the draft.”

Arun said that the two countries’ decision to create a joint committee to deal with human trafficking had helped resolve earlier impediments to the MoU’s ratification.  

Previously, Malaysia had rejected some requirements put forward by Cambodia, such as the repatriation of victims of trafficking, but it has now agreed to work with Cambodia on such matters, she said, adding that the MoU would also include wage assurances and overtime limits.

“We could not create a legal instrument to protect our workers from labour and sexual abuse in Malaysia alone,” Chou Bun Eng, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, said.

“At last we can work together on this issue,” said Eng, who is also secretariat chair for the National Committee to Lead the Suppression of Human Trafficking, Smuggling, Labor Exploitation and Sexual Exploitation of Women and Children.

Earlier this week, leaders at the ASEAN summit reaffirmed their obligations to working toward phased implementation of the 2007 Cebu Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers.

To contact the reporters on this story: Sen David at



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