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US gives score on trafficking

Two repatriated Cambodian nationals leave the Phnom Penh airport in 2015 after being trafficked to China to be sold as brides.
Two repatriated Cambodian nationals leave the Phnom Penh airport in 2015 after being trafficked to China to be sold as brides. Vireak Mai

US gives score on trafficking

While noting Cambodia’s “significant efforts” to combat human trafficking, the US State Department’s 2017 Trafficking in Persons report nevertheless concluded that the Cambodian government is still not doing enough to eliminate human trafficking.

The annual report grades countries in a three-tier system, accompanied by an additional “tier two watch list” for countries at risk of falling to the bottom ranking. Tier one nations meet minimum US standards for fighting trafficking, while tier two governments – like Cambodia – display “significant efforts” to improve. Tier three nations do not meet the standards, and are assessed to have made insufficient efforts to improve.

Cambodia had dropped to the tier two watch list in 2013 and was upgraded to the watch list in 2013. It ascended back to the tier two category only in 2016, thanks to what the report described as “increased efforts”. The report cites a mounting number of traffickers convicted, from 43 in 2015 to at least 100 in 2016; the increase of funds for Cambodia’s national anti-trafficking committee, from $877,407 in 2015 to $974,896 in 2016; and the release of a Ministry of Labour action plan to fight labour and debt bondage in the service, agricultural, mining and energy sectors.

However, the report notes, serious problems remain. Most glaringly: “[D]espite endemic corruption that contributes to trafficking in many sectors and among several vulnerable demographics, the government did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any complicit officials,” the report says.

The report also criticised the government’s failure to authorise anti-trafficking police units to engage in undercover investigations, saying that this severely restricts their ability to arrest traffickers. It added that the Cambodian government must improve its data collection techniques with a focus on enhancing cooperation between government agencies monitoring trafficking.

Further restricting prosecutions, the report says, is Cambodian courts’ continued reliance on monetary settlements instead of prison sentences to conclude cases, while “victims whose families received out-of-court settlements often changed their testimony”.

Finally, the report notes the government’s shortcomings in victim protection, saying it still returns trafficked children to “high-risk environments” and provides “minimal assistance to male labor trafficking victims despite their prevalence”.

General Pol Pithey, director of the Anti-human Trafficking Police, could not be reached for comment. Kim Chenda, chief of the National Police’s Office of Anti-Human Trafficking, declined to comment, saying he had not read the report.

Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said he found the report “acceptable”, but took issue with criticism pointing out Cambodia’s poor record of pursuing corrupt officials involved in trafficking.

“We need the proof. Who has not been arrested? … We need this exactly,” he said. “We are happy if the US provides that information.”

The only case referenced by the report is the 2013 overturning of former Phnom Penh Anti-Trafficking Police Chief Eam Rattana’s conviction for ties to trafficking rings in a closed-door Supreme Court hearing.

On the matter of information sharing, Chou Bun Eng, the permanent vice chair of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking, contended that the situation could be improved if more NGOs reported their findings to the government. “Some organisations try their best to do by themselves; they do not report to us, just to their donors,” she said, declining to name specific groups.

Peter Williams, field director of the International Justice Mission – which aided in the conviction of three key figures in a Siem Reap human-trafficking ring last May by cooperating with Siem Reap police – agreed there was room for more collaboration.

Overall, said Williams, “the report’s conclusion strikes a good balance that stakeholders in Cambodia would agree with: While significant progress continues to be made, Cambodians are still being trafficked in large numbers and so there is still much work to be done.”

Additional reporting by Phak Seangly

A previous version of this article said that Cambodia had dropped to tier three in 2012. It should have instead stated that Cambodia dropped to the tier two watch list in 2013. The Post apologises for any confusion caused.

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