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'Slavery' fight praised

'Slavery' fight praised

A US State Department envoy applauds efforts by Cambodia in combating human trafficking and protecting of victims.

A SENIOR US diplomat specialising in human trafficking praised the Kingdom's progress in the fight against "modern slavery" after meeting with government officials Tuesday and Wednesday.

Luis CdeBaca, director of the US State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, met with representatives from the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Interior during his two-day visit to Phnom Penh. He stopped previously in Thailand and Malaysia, and plans to meet with NGOs in Siem Reap province today and Friday, the US Embassy said.

CdeBaca cited this week's removal of three American paedophiles arrested in Cambodia to stand trial in the US as an example of improvements in the Kingdom's anti-trafficking efforts. The successful apprehension of the three men, he said, "would not have been possible without the cooperation of US and Cambodian authorities".

He pointed also to national standards for the protection of victims of human trafficking issued this week by the Ministry of Social Affairs as indicative of Cambodian advancement in battling trafficking. "We commend the government for that step forward," he said.

While he noted "confusion" in the government's implementation of 2008's Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking, as "trafficking" was sometimes conflated with non-coerced sex work and other offences, CdeBaca's tone was conciliatory as the US State Department approaches its reassessment of Cambodian anti-trafficking efforts.

In June of this year, the US downgraded Cambodia to the second-lowest mark on its rating system for assessing human-trafficking prevention by national governments. Cambodia was bumped from "Tier 2" to the "Tier 2 Watch List", with the US State Department explaining in a press
release that the government "did not show evidence of progress in convicting and punishing human trafficking offenders including complicit public officials, or in protecting trafficking victims". A fall one level further, to "Tier 3", could result in economic sanctions.

CdeBaca would not say definitively what rating Cambodia is likely to receive when it is re-evaluated in February 2010, but he indicated that the country has improved its reputation since the last assessment period.

"We certainly encourage the government to continue these efforts," he said.

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