Minister of Justice Koeut Rith has urged improvements to the quality of the courts and tribunals when it comes to cases involving labour trafficking and sexual exploitation.

The call came on September 16 at a meeting aimed at action on human trafficking, money laundering and sexual exploitation. The meeting sought to enhance effectiveness and speed up procedures relevant to these types of crime.

Koeut Rith suggested that prosecutors cooperate comprehensively with law enforcement officers to carry out operations to combat all forms of labour trafficking, exploitation and sex trafficking.

He added that the judiciary also needs to expedite investigations of money laundering crimes in a timely manner. Judges, prosecutors and all court officials should focus their attention on strengthening their own abilities to combat these types of crimes as an efficient campaign against these crimes is crucial to the Kingdom’s socio-economic development, he added.

The instructions came months after the US Department of State issued a report downgrading Cambodia’s human trafficking ranking.

But Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said the meeting was not held in response to the US report, explaining that these types of meetings were held regularly.

“This meeting aimed to further strengthen our capacities. The aforementioned crimes have particular natures, so we meet regularly to exchange our experiences in order to deal with them more effectively,” he added.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director of rights group LICADHO, said the ministry has the role of managing court officials and plays an important role in maintaining security and public order, while guaranteeing justice and equality before the law.

“The justice ministry plays a key role in investigating these crimes, while the courts uphold the law. It is clear that the judiciary plays a very important role in major crimes, including human trafficking and drugs,” he added.

He noted that under Koeut Rith, the ministry has carried out reforms in the judiciary and launched campaigns to clear a backlog of court cases which in turn eased prison overcrowding, coupled with the release of prisoners who were near the end of their sentences on parole.

“We have also often seen Koeut Rith reminding the courts or prosecutors about these goals. The government and the ministry have recently shown their willingness to curb human trafficking by setting up specialised commissions – this was part of their efforts to influence the courts to work more effectively,” he said.

In downgrading the Kingdom’s ranking to Tier 3 in its Trafficking in Persons (TIP), the US report alleged that the Cambodian government did not meet minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and was not making significant efforts to do so, even considering the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on its capacity.

Minister of Interior Sar Kheng countered at the time that the US shared the blame as it had been cooperating with Cambodian authorities and other partners to address the issue.

No matter what ranking, he said Cambodia would continue to work to identify – and resolve – any weaknesses in may have in its anti-trafficking mechanisms.