A senior government official on Sunday reacted to a US report which said the Kingdom had not fully met the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking, saying it seemed to be biased against the Cambodian government.
The 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report, which was released on Friday, downgraded Cambodia to its “Tier 2 Watch List”.
“The government of Cambodia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so."
“The government demonstrated significant efforts during the reporting period, including by continuing to prosecute and convict traffickers, increasing law enforcement training and taking steps to raise awareness on and incentivise safe migration to primary destination countries.
“However, the government did not demonstrate increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period,” the report said.
The Ministry of Interior’s National Committee for Counter-Trafficking spokesman Yim Virak told The Post that as of Sunday, Cambodia had not obtained a copy of the report.
However, Virak called the report “biased”, as the government had made great efforts to carry out its requirements to prevent and eliminate human trafficking.
He did not fully reject the report, pointing out that it seemed to praise the government for its efforts to curb and eradicate human trafficking, but lamented its downgrading of Cambodia.
“We have made efforts with a very high commitment to combat human trafficking because trafficking is a serious violation of the rights of individuals that we must defend."
“What is worrying is that it is more than 10 years since Cambodia was placed on the Tier 2 Watch List. Last year we were graded as Tier 2. Our efforts are overwhelming and the report goes contrary to those efforts,” Virak said.
Four other Asean members were also ranked on the Tier 2 Watch List – Brunei, Laos, Malaysia and Vietnam.
The report said Cambodian authorities did not adequately collect or share key information on law enforcement efforts, while corruption continued to impede law enforcement operations, criminal proceedings and victim service provision.
“Against a backdrop of insufficient government oversight and accountability measures, authorities did not investigate credible reports of official complicity with unscrupulous business owners who subjected thousands of men, women and children throughout the country to human trafficking via debt-based coercion – particularly in brick kilns.
“In several high-profile cases, the government used anti-trafficking legislation and law enforcement resources to target political opposition figures and other non-traffickers attempting to document the country’s trafficking circumstances.
“Authorities did not issue formal guidance allowing the use of undercover investigative techniques in anti-trafficking operations – a factor that continued to impede officials’ ability to fully hold sex traffickers accountable. Therefore Cambodia was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List,” the report said.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said on Sunday that Cambodia was not concerned how it was ranked by the US because it had participated in a wide range of activities, such as legislative and regulatory mechanisms, to respond to and fight against human trafficking.
He said the measures were not responding to the US or made in order to receive its admiration, but rather were a response to these inhumane acts, against which the government is determined to act.
“That’s their assessment, but the Royal Government of Cambodia pays little heed to how it is ranked by the US. We have failed to satisfy the US but, in line with the code of ethics and culture of Cambodia, we are committed to combatting trafficking,” he said.
Meas Saim, Adhoc’s deputy director of women and children’s rights, said the government had made efforts to tackle trafficking but had not seemed to have achieved its goals and did not respond to the practical landscape of Cambodian society.
“If they have the will to solve the issue, why aren’t high-profile [human trafficking] intermediaries arrested? Instead, low-profile people and sometimes even the victims are,” he claimed.
Saim expressed concern that if Cambodia cannot restore its reputation, it could lose many benefits, especially economic ones, from superpowers such as the US and the EU.
The report gave a list of “prioritised recommendations” for Cambodia to take, including authorising the use of undercover investigative techniques; fully implementing the nationwide protocol for proactive victim identification among vulnerable groups; and increasing labour inspections in high-vulnerability professions, especially at brick kilns, fisheries and plantations, with a focus on identifying debt bondage.
It called on the Kingdom to respect due process, vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking offences and convict and adequately penalise sex and labour traffickers, including complicit officials, with significant prison sentences.
Virak said Cambodia would carefully review all of the report’s recommendations.