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Cambodians to appeal US court's dismissal of Thai trafficking case

Migrant workers sort fish on a Thai fishing boat. An appeal of the case filed by Cambodian workers alleging they suffered abuse from their Thai employers was denied this week. Nicolas Asfouri/AFP
Migrant workers sort fish on a Thai fishing boat. Nicolas Asfouri/AFP

Cambodians to appeal US court's dismissal of Thai trafficking case

A group of Cambodians allegedly trafficked onto Thai fishing boats have launched an appeal against a United States federal court judgment dismissing their complaint against four companies.

The plaintiffs – Keo Ratha, Sem Kosal, Sophea Bun, Yem Ban, Nol Nakry, Phan Sophea and Sok Sang – filed a complaint against Thai companies Phattana Seafood and S.S. Frozen Food Co, and US companies Rubicon Resources and Wales & Co, for knowingly profiting from human trafficking.

The notice of appeal was filed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit yesterday, with the legal arguments to be submitted in a few months, lawyer Agnieszka Fryszman said via email. She highlighted that the case was dismissed last week based on a lack of jurisdiction, and that the companies did not challenge “that Keo Ratha was a victim of human trafficking and forced labor”.

“We are obviously disappointed in the Court’s decision,” she wrote. “The Defendants declined to seek summary judgement on the trafficking claims of the majority of the Plaintiffs, conceding there was sufficient evidence of peonage, forced labor and human trafficking to proceed to trial. We believe the court’s decision that the claims could not [be] heard in the United States is wrong on the law.”

Fryszman estimated that the chances of the appeal were “very good”. Contrary to what California Central District Court Judge John F Walter had decided, she believed that US law had broader scope and covered a company that “benefits financially or by receiving anything of value from participation in a venture”.

This jurisdiction, she maintained, falls under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act's goal to “more effectively combat human trafficking in global supply chains”.

“We believe this case falls squarely within the statute’s protections,” she said.

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