Less than a month after Cambodia was handed the second-lowest rating in the United States’ annual Trafficking in Persons report, a senior official is “optimistic” the Kingdom can eventually move up the ranking.
Released in July, the State Department report kept Cambodia as a “Tier 2 – Watch List” country for the third year in a row, due to the government’s failure to fulfill minimum anti-trafficking standards even though it is a source, transfer and destination country for traffickers.
“We don’t dare say that it has been a great success – we still rank second [tier] in the classifications; it’s not very good,” Chou Bun Heng, permanent vice chair of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking, said at a conference in Phnom Penh yesterday.
But Bun Heng said that with further support to implement a recent anti-trafficking plan passed this February, Cambodia had a good chance of moving out of the doghouse, where it joins countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Qatar.
“We are proud and we are optimistic that in the following years, we can get results,” she said. “At this moment, we have a firm foundation.”
The NCCT’s five-year action plan calls for greater government resources to be devoted to the sector and deeper involvement at both the regional and small-scale level.
The plan also urges the reform of certain policies that critics say hamper the police’s ability to prosecute traffickers, such as the inadmissibility of evidence gained by undercover investigations.
“If implemented properly, this will be the first step,” said Sean Callahan, deputy mission director of USAID in Cambodia.
“We know it’s a long fight, and we’ll try to really get busy, not just on a year-by-year [basis], but in the long term.”
Under normal TIP rules, countries that appear on the Watch List for more than two years automatically fall to the lowest ranking, Tier 3.
It was thanks to the NCCT’s action plan that Cambodia was granted a waiver to avoid being knocked down to Tier 3, the TIP report said, although further rankings would depend on the plan’s implementation, where significant hurdles remain.
Scarce funds from relevant ministries, along with a lack of planning, seriously hampered the NCCT’s last action plan from 2011 to 2013, the NCCT said in its most recent plan.
Sara Piazzano, chief of party at the USAID-funded Counter Trafficking in Persons Program run by Winrock International, said anti-traffickers were closely watching how much support the revamped NCCT will receive in next year’s budget.
“It will be a very important sign,” she said.