CAMBODIA should not have been removed from a US State Department watch list of countries judged to be making insufficient gains in fighting human trafficking, a US lawmaker has charged.
In a statement released Monday, California congressman Ed Royce said the 2010 Trafficking in Persons report, released this week, let Cambodia off lightly, despite “an abundance of evidence” of persistent problems.
“It appears that some countries like Cambodia have gotten a pass,” Royce said.
The report listed Cambodia as a “Tier 2” country on a three-tier system, indicating that the Kingdom was seen not to have met minimum standards for eliminating trafficking, but was “making significant efforts to do so”. It cited a boost in law enforcement and prosecution against trafficking offenders as justification for taking Cambodia off the watch list.
Royce, however, noted that the change occurred despite a range of serious concerns cited in the report. For example, the report warned that Cambodian children are still trafficked to neighbouring countries, and that the sale of virgin girls persists, as does the direct and indirect involvement of police and judicial officials in trafficking – part of what the report calls “impunity, corruption and related rent-seeking behaviour”.
“We need to be sending a much stronger message that these forms of modern day slavery [are] unacceptable,” Royce said.
IT APPEARS THAT SOME COUNTRIES LIKE CAMBODIA HAVE GOTTEN A PASS.
Royce, an outspoken critic of the Cambodian government who last year sponsored a proposed resolution condemning “the pervasive corruption of the Kingdom of Cambodia”, said this year’s report was “rewarding” authorities, when they should instead have been given a warning.
Countries that are judged to consistently show few signs of progress in combating human trafficking could in theory face repercussions from the US government.
If Cambodia had been kept on the watchlist this year and next, it would automatically have been downgraded to the lowest level – Tier 3 – in the 2011 report. Under US anti-trafficking legislation, the US government could have then chosen to withhold non-humanitarian aid and to oppose the donation of some multilateral aid from financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
The government official who directs Cambodia’s anti-trafficking efforts downplayed Royce’s criticisms, saying the state department report represents the views of a multitude of parties, not just one person.
“We believe that before the US classifies somebody, they have collected information on the issue from sources such as NGOs, the government and their own investigations,” said Bith Kimhong, director of the Ministry of Interior’s Anti-Human Trafficking Bureau. “Their information is fully collected.”
Some observers who work on anti-trafficking issues say Cambodia has taken strides in the past year and is deserving of its Tier 2 placement. But others say authorities’ actions have also harmed certain marginalised groups.
Ly Pisey, a technical assistant with the group Women’s Network for Unity, said vice crackdowns executed in the name of stamping out human trafficking have actually targeted sex workers, many of whom have not been trafficked.
“They have been arrested almost every day and sent to social affairs centres,” Ly Pisey said.
She said the crackdowns were given added impetus with the passage in 2008 of the Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation, more than one-quarter of which focuses on prostitution. Ly Pisey believes authorities were pressured to pass the law quickly so as not to be criticised in that year’s state department report. The 2008 report cited the new law as evidence of Cambodia’s progress at the time against trafficking.
“The US government is using this tier system to judge and criticise others, even though they’re also part of the problem involved in enforcement,” Ly Pisey said.