Human rights NGO International Justice Mission (IJM) on Friday hailed the conviction of three “key players” in a Siem Reap-based human trafficking network responsible for recruiting, transporting and selling Cambodian migrant workers into the Thai fishing industry. Despite the convictions, however, it is unclear if the victims will ever see compensation, or if two of the traffickers on the run will serve their sentences.
According to an IJM statement, on Thursday the Siem Reap Provincial Court gave Nath Sambath and Nget Phalla nine-year sentences and Moeut Kia an eight-year prison term, while the six Cambodian men who testified against them “were awarded compensation in amounts ranging from two million to twenty-five million riel [about $6,250].” They were among 230 Cambodians rescued from Thai fishing boats in Indonesian waters in June 2015.
IJM lawyers gained power of attorney for the six victims and passed their accounts to the Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Police in Siem Reap.
Matt Friedman, the CEO of the Hong Kong-based anti-slavery nonprofit The Mekong Club, lauded the convictions as a milestone, pointing to the low number of previous arrests and convictions in Cambodia.
“It sends a strong message to those doing these criminal activities ‘You may be next’,” said Friedman, a former Regional project manager for the United Nations International Project on Human Trafficking. The US State Department’s 2016 Trafficking in Persons report identifies 69 prosecutions under Cambodia’s 2008 Anti-Trafficking Law.
The convictions, however, are only part of the story. As Peter Williams of IJM acknowledged, the court-mandated compensations are meant to be paid by the convicted traffickers, who in the past have refused to pay.
Furthermore, Phalla fled and remains at large after previously being granted bail by an investigating judge, while Kia has never appeared before the court.
“Victims of Thailand’s seafood slavery generally, despite a massive input of foreign aid and Asean government actions, rarely receive a prompt remedy, rehabilitation or any compensation at all for their years or even decades of abuse at sea or in seafood processing,” said migrant worker rights specialist Andy Hall.
He called for the establishment of a “seafood slavery fund” by Thailand, other governments and seafood industry players.