Cambodia has improved its ranking in the global United States’ Trafficking in Persons report, though “endemic corruption” and a failure to target officials complicit in the trade still hamper anti-trafficking efforts, the State Department assessment stated.
In the 2016 edition of the report, released yesterday, Cambodia – considered a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking – was elevated from the watch list to tier 2, from which it fell in 2012.
The annual report grades countries in a three-tier system plus an additional “tier two watch list”, for countries at risk of falling to the bottom ranking. Tier one is for nations that meet minimum US standards, while tier two indicates governments are displaying “significant efforts” to improve.
In upgrading Cambodia to tier two, the report noted the completion of national guidelines for identifying and referring victims to services and an increase in victims identified from 329 to 589.
Prosecutions and convictions, particularly for labour trafficking offences, also appeared to rise, though comprehensive data was lacking, it said. Based on government, media and NGO statistics, authorities convicted at least 19 sex traffickers and 24 labour traffickers, an increase from at least 22 sex traffickers and seven labour traffickers convicted the previous year.
However, the report also lists a litany of areas lagging in progress, including trafficking-related corruption, which often “thwarted” cases. It notes “the government failed to investigate, prosecute or convict any complicit officials”.
A lack of formal guidance allowing the use of undercover investigations was also a concern, particularly as it meant a heavier reliance on testimony by vulnerable witnesses.
General Pol Pithey, director of anti-human trafficking police, said the improvement reflected increased efforts by law enforcement, but also a “greater understanding” by the US of the situation in Cambodia.
Asked about the report’s concern with corruption, Pithey said “I do not see police involved with trafficking in persons, but if I have information, we will act”.
The report, however, made particular mention of the case of former chief of Phnom Penh’s anti-human trafficking police, Eam Rattana, whose 2011 conviction for human trafficking activities was over turned allowing him to continue working in the police force.
Meanwhile, Thailand, where many Cambodians are trafficked into forced labour aboard fishing trawlers, was also promoted, regaining tier two status after being dropped to the lowest ranking in 2014.
Although sex trafficking is still a “significant problem” there, the report cites major improvements within the fishing and seafood industries and an increase in the number of investigations, prosecutions and convictions.