A senior official rebuffed a US report which claims that the Cambodian government has failed to meet the minimum requirements for the elimination of human trafficking.
Chou Bun Eng, the Ministry of Interior’s secretary of state and permanent vice-chair of the National Committee for Counter-Trafficking, said the report did not reflect the real situation on the ground.
On July 2, the US embassy in Phnom Penh published the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report that places Cambodia on its “Tier 2 Watch List”, the same position it held last year.
The report said: “The Cambodian government does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.”
The report comes to that conclusion despite having acknowledged the Cambodian government’s efforts in improving data collection, monitoring of traffickers, prosecuting and convicting traffickers, as well as improved efforts at victim identification data across the country.
The report, issued annually by the US State Department, also praised the continuation of investigations, prosecutions and convictions and Cambodia’s continuing to implement national action plans to combat trafficking.
However, it went on to claim that while the government had increased its efforts to clamp down on human trafficking, corruption continued to hamper law enforcement, criminal procedure and victim protection services.
“The government did not provide adequate protection services for victims domestically or overseas and relied heavily on foreign donors and NGOs to provide much-needed care. Endemic corruption and lack of political will continue to severely limit progress in holding traffickers accountable.
“Due to insufficient government oversight and accountability measures, authorities did not investigate many reports of involvement with trafficking, especially with some business owners who had subjected thousands of men, women and children to trafficking across the country,” the report said.
It also claimed that authorities had not issued official guidelines for authorities to use covert investigative techniques in anti-trafficking operations. This hindered the police’s ability to bring sex traffickers to justice.
Bun Eng said the report was written from the point of view of a passive observer seeing things from afar and that did not reflect the reality on the ground where the government worked very hard to combat human trafficking.
Bun Eng told The Post on July 5: “What was said in the report was the point of view of an evaluator, but as the doers we work very hard to combat human trafficking.
“They came up with the test so they have the right to mark the scores, but we are not discouraged in our work to combat human trafficking. We always think about what we can do that is within our abilities and we will not allow human trafficking to happen without cracking down on it,” she said.
Bun Eng said the government is not working alone against human trafficking. It is cooperating with national and international partner organisations and the UN.
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic and the return of nearly 200,000 migrant workers to Cambodia at the same time, the government has been actively preventing the trafficking of people to other countries and even people of high rank within the armed forces were brought to justice for having connections with human trafficking, she noted.
“We try to do everything. We have not given up our core work in combating human trafficking. At the same time, we are still fighting against Covid-19, which is another problem together with human trafficking,” she said.
Asked what standards the US might have used to rank Cambodia’s efforts, Bun Eng said: “I do not know what the standards are or what their report makers want. What we do is according to our principles and plans that we have set out, as well as our capacity and ability.”
Bun Eng said Prime Minister Hun Sen had always set anti-human trafficking efforts as one of the government’s top law enforcement priorities and that the government would continue to strive to fight human trafficking in order to uphold the human rights and human dignity of the people.
In the first quarter of this year, she said Cambodian authorities had cracked down on 58 cases related to human trafficking, compared to the 27 busts that were made for the entire year of 2020.