The global trade in human beings is booming. The United States, leading the battle
against what it calls "modern day slave trading", estimates that worldwide
up to 900,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year.
John Miller speaking in Phnom Penh: "I think the challenge is very serious here in Cambodia...one of the most serious challenges in the world."
For those thousands of people, trafficking is a human rights abuse and very often
a living hell but for traffickers it's a lucrative business, generating seven to
ten billion dollars each year according to United Nations estimates.
People are beginning to rival narcotics and guns as the money-maker of choice among
organized crime networks because humans are often easier to move across borders and
can be resold or retrafficked.
In a bid to combat this increasingly sophisticated business, the US now ranks countries
by their anti-trafficking efforts, placing them into three tiers ranging from Tier
1 nations that fully comply with US-set standards, to those in Tier 3 that don't
and are making little effort to improve.
The middle ground is Tier 2, a category describing countries that "do not fully
comply with the [2000 Trafficking Victims Protection] Act's minimum standards but
are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards."
Last month, John Miller, the director of the US Department of State's Office to Monitor
and Combat Trafficking in Persons, toured Cambodia for three days to gather information
for this year's Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report.
The first TIP report ranked Cambodia in Tier 3 for 2001-2, but last year raised that
to Tier 2.
At a press conference on February 22, Miller praised Cambodia's efforts but said
the government had a long way to go to address its position as a sender, transit
and receiver country for trafficked persons.
"I think the challenge is very serious here in Cambodia...one of the most serious
challenges in the world," Miller said.
He was upbeat about Cambodia's cooperation with Thailand and the increased arrests
of trafficking offenders, but noted concern at the ability of the court system to
mete out justice.
"We see that only a tiny percentage of arrests led to prison. We hope these
arrests will turn into convictions and sentences of traffickers," Miller said.
Oung Chanthol, executive director of the Cambodian Women's Crisis Center, says she
has noticed improvements in the way provincial courts are handling human trafficking
cases but the Phnom Penh court is lagging behind on the issues.
"If we compare the effort [of the government in 2003-4] I think it's less than
in the last few years but I hope Cambodia stays in Tier 2," Chanthol says.
The consequences of a Tier 3 ranking are potentially serious. Last year, the United
States introduced an option to apply sanctions on non-humanitarian, non-trade aid
to Tier 3 countries and, perhaps more importantly for Cambodia, it may oppose assistance
from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
According to the 2003 TIP report, all or part of the sanctions can be waived by the
US President if the country is ranked in Tier 3 for the first time or if it complies
with the set standards within three months of the report's release. Cuts to assistance
can also be waived to avoid having further negative effects on vulnerable populations.
Ith Sam Heng, Minister of Social Affairs, Labor, Vocational Training and Youth Rehabilitation,
says Cambodia's move up the tier system accurately reflects the improvements being
made by the government and NGOs, and expressed hope that the Cambodia would maintain
its ranking for 2004-5.
"Our work against human trafficking is not for the favor of somebody but to
protect the Cambodian's human rights against corruption and injustice, especially
human trafficking," Heng said at a workshop on the issue last month.
Miller was reluctant to speculate on Cambodia's 2004 ranking, saying the only formal
assessment will appear in the coming report.
"But what I can tell you specifically about my visit is that government officials
are well aware of the issue of human trafficking and expressed interest in making
progress to stop it," Miller told the Post in a March 12 email.
"The focus of our report is how anti-trafficking sentiments translate into tangible
actions," he wrote.
"Our assessment is ongoing and there is no assurance Cambodia will be in any
specific tier," Miller said.
The 2004 TIP report will be released in June.