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Should Cambodia accept its ranking?

Since 2001, the US State Department issued its Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, measuring countries’ anti-trafficking efforts against four Minimum Standards (MS) prescribed in the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act and categorising countries according to their anti-trafficking efforts.  Between 2001 and 2003, there were only three tiers. Starting in 2004, the report introduced Tier 2 “Watch List” (Tier 2WL), which constituted an intermediary step between Tier 2 and Tier 3.

Cambodia’s ranking in the TIP reports has fluctuated over the years, starting from Tier 2 in 2001 down to Tier 3 in 2002 and 2005, back to Tier 2WL in 2006, 2007 and 2009 and to Tier 2 in 2010 and 2011. Considering these rankings, Cambodia is one of the least compliant with the MS.

However, the TIP report seems to categorise countries’ anti-trafficking efforts on the basis of US political interests rather than on proper research about the extent of the problem in a country. The report appears to be an instrument by the US government for molding other countries, especially developing nations, into the values of the US and its approach to human trafficking and prostitution.

The TIP report is fundamentally flawed. The methodology employed to collect data, which form the basis of judgment for tier placement, is non-transparent and cannot be verified. The report often failed to indicate the exact sources of information/data, which would otherwise allow for validation.

For example, the 2011 TIP report states – without mentioning any source – that “some large entertainment establishments each may exploit between 100-200 women and children on premises on a given night”. It did not indicate where and when. Would it not be more helpful to the Cambodian police if the report indicated the whereabouts of such establishments? Or are those only mythical places?

It is important to consider the political undertone of the TIP report. Countries that are not true allies of the US tend to be in Tier 2 WL or Tier 3. For instance, Cuba, Myanmar, North Korea, and Sudan are the only four countries to have been consistently placed in Tier 3 since they were first included in the TIP report.

Iran since 2006 – soon after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected President – has been placed in Tier 3. South Korea, a close ally of the US, has been on Tier 1 between 2002 and 2011.

Is the TIP report an objective and empirical assessment of a country’s human trafficking situation or is it a political tool used by the US to shame and/or harass other countries? Above all, does Cambodia have the rights not to be included from the report?

Or is Cambodia entitled to review the evidence used by the State Department to come to its conclusion?

Chenda Keo,
Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security, The Australian National University.

Send letters to: or PO Box 146, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Post reserves the right to edit letters to a shorter length.
The views expressed above are solely the author’s and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.



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