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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - US threatens sanctions over human trafficking

US threatens sanctions over human trafficking

Unless Cambodia makes progress in combating human trafficking by this time next year,

it will be subject to aid sanctions by the United States under its Trafficking Victims

Protection Act of 2000.

The warning was included in the second annual Trafficking in Persons Report released

by the US State Department June 5.

Cambodia was given the lowest possible ranking as a 'Tier 3' country in the report,

which covers the period April 2001 to March 2002.

'Tier 3' countries are those that do not "fully comply with the minimum standards

and are not making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance,"

the report stated.

The government's most senior anti-trafficking official, co-Minister of Interior Sar

Kheng, could not be reached for comment. Ironically he was in Australia discussing

anti-trafficking measures with Australia's federal police.

"Some of these [Tier 3] governments refuse to acknowledge the trafficking problem

within their territory," the report stated.

The report placed Cambodia in some uninspiring company. It found itself rated alongside

18 other countries including five Persian Gulf states as well as Burma, Afghanistan,

Belarus, Indonesia and the Sudan.

Last year between 700,000 and 4 million people worldwide were "bought, sold,

transported and held against their will in slave like conditions," the report

stated.

A US Embassy spokesman said that, among other improvements, the US wanted to see

Cambodia pass a trafficking law as part of a suite of measures to address the problem.

The crime is currently covered by a thin, four page law promulgated in 1996. That

law has extensive loopholes such as banning trafficking for prostitution but not

for adoption. The Ministry of Justice is developing a more substantial draft trafficking

law, which is being prepared with Japanese technical assistance.

While the embassy spokesman indicated that a solution could only result from co-operation

between NGOs, the Cambodian government, foreign governments, local anti-trafficking

NGOs are yet to see a draft of the anti-human trafficking law. The completed draft

is due for consultation within the next few months.

Cambodia is also not yet a signatory to the November 2000 UN protocol on the Prevention,

Suppression and Punishment of Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.

The US and 104 other countries have signed the protocol so far.

Any country still in Tier 3 after the 2003 report will be subject to sanctions, "principally

the termination of non-humanitarian, non-trade related assistance," according

to the report. The State Department is required by law to submit a human trafficking

report annually.

More alarmingly for the Cambodian government the US would lobby against assistance

for Tier 3 countries from international financial institutions, including the International

Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other multilateral development banks.

However all or part of these sanctions can be waived by the US president if he considers

that the assistance promotes the US trafficking act, or to avoid significant adverse

affects on vulnerable populations such as women and children.

Cambodia was described as a "source, destination and transit country" for

human trafficking, and the report stated there was internal trafficking in women

and children.

"Victims are trafficked from Vietnam for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

Cambodians are trafficked to Thailand for purposes of sexual exploitation, street

begging and bonded labor," the report said.

It went on to criticize Cambodia for not complying with minimum standards for the

elimination of trafficking, and for not making significant efforts to do so.

"We'd like to see more active involvement in rooting out police and official

corruption related to trafficking," the US Embassy spokesman said.

The report did acknowledge the efforts of some Cambodian police and government officials

and recognized that "some traffickers were convicted in 2001 and are serving

time in prison".

However it went on to state that "corruption, lack of police training and poor

implementation of laws that facilitate trafficking of persons and similar crimes,

such as baby selling".

The US, the major market for Cambodian orphans over the past decade, has recently

begun to make efforts toward stamping out the practice of trafficking in infants

in order to fill the demand for 'orphans' in the US.

"Therein lies the problem," the embassy spokesman said, "we're having

trouble with legitimate adoptions of legitimate orphans. Baby selling is not illegal

in Cambodia and we think it ought to be."

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