THE Ministry of Social Affairs has unveiled a new policy relating to its treatment of victims of human trafficking, laying out a series of benchmarks intended to ensure human rights are respected as the Kingdom ramps up its anti-trafficking efforts.
The prakas – or ministerial directive – launched on Monday lays out benchmark standards to protect the basic rights of trafficked persons and ensure their reintegration into society, according to Minister of Social Affairs Ith Sam Heng.
“In order to responsibly protect the rights of victims of human trafficking, we need to have a clear policy and minimum standards for protection,” Ith Sam Heng said at a workshop marking the launch of the new policy.
“The policy and minimum standards set out regulations for civil servants and [NGOs] to do their work and protect the right of the victims [of trafficking].”
Since its passage in 2008, the Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking has come under fire from rights groups, who say it has conflated trafficking with voluntary sex work, resulting in widespread police abuses.
The new policy orders that victims of trafficking be granted a series of basic rights, including the rights to safety and protection, individual identity, privacy, dignity, justice and freedom of movement.
“[Victims] deserve our compassion and immediate action from our government to relieve their hardship and suffering,” the prakas states.
Samleang Seila, executive director of local NGO Action Pour Les Enfants, said the policy, by taking power from police and NGO service providers and granting more of a say to the victims themselves, could help prevent voluntary sex workers from being caught up in raids by anti-trafficking police.
However, he said it could create new problems in genuine instances of sex trafficking.
“[The policy] seems to be giving special rights to the victims to decide whether to proceed with a criminal case,” he said.
“My concern is that sometimes the victims [of trafficking] are under the influence of the perpetrators.”
Other advocates, however, said past experiences did not bode well for the implementation of the new policy directive, however high-minded.
“Since the implementation of the  law, the police have been unable to adhere to a rights-based enforcement of the law, despite being handheld by NGOs throughout the process,” said Sara Bradford, a technical adviser for the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers.
“Repetition of this method, which has proved to be a failure, is a waste of donor money and of time.”
The prakas cites figures from UNIAP showing that just 9 percent of Cambodian sex workers were “deceived” into entering the industry.
Ing Vannrithy, a coordinator in charge of Anti-Trafficking and Reintegration Office of the Social Affairs Ministry, said fair implementation of the 2008 law had previously been hamstrung by a lack of specific guidelines for law enforcement officials and NGOs.
“We found that the process of the recent law enforcement against human trafficking continued to suffer from a lack of standards,” she said.
On a visit to Cambodia earlier this month, Luis CdeBaca, director of the US state department’s office to monitor and combat trafficking in persons, noted the “confusion” between trafficking and non-coerced sex work but said the recent arrest of three American paedophiles in Cambodia was a sign things were improving.
US embassy spokesman John Johnson said the passage of the prakas, which was developed with US technical assistance, was an “important step forward” for Cambodia’s anti-trafficking efforts.
“The United States believes it is important to ensure that individuals who have been victimised receive quality care and support in line with acceptable international norms,” he said.
“[The ministry’s] successful collaboration with NGOs during this process has been essential to the success of the policy and indicates the increasing leadership role that the government is now playing in combating human trafficking.”