Fourteen trafficked Vietnamese girls who were rescued by police in a raid on a
city brothel last month were arrested June 20 for illegal immigration.
The move, which came after the Phnom Penh municipal court issued the
warrant, sparked outrage from NGOs and a government minister.
Two of the 14 girls taken to Prey Sar prison June 20 are driven away by police after a court ordered them arrested for illegal immigration offenses. NGOs said the girls had been trafficked from Vietnam for prostitution, and condemned the arrests. Human Rights Watch called on donors to raise 'strong concerns'.
who had been moved to local NGO AFESIP after the May 23 raid, were placed in a
van by police and taken to "Mor 2" at Prey Sar prison. The girls, many of whom
are only 14 and 15 years old, and others living at the refuge were in tears as
they were driven away.
Mu Sochua, the Minister for Women's and Veteran's
Affairs, said she was "extremely unhappy" at the arrests. She held an emergency
meeting with NGOs about the situation June 20.
"They were rescued from
brothels, therefore they're victims. Their welfare and their rights should be
protected," she said.
Sochua wondered what was being done by police and
the courts to pursue those who trafficked the girls. She said she would write to
Prime Minister Hun Sen recommending the girls be repatriated to Vietnam, and
ensured protection once they arrived home.
"It's not a legal issue," said
Sochua. "It's a protection issue for children."
Sao Chhoeurth, technical
manager of AFESIP, said he would "prefer to keep them in the center as prison is
not suitable for their young ages". He said he would like to negotiate with
Vietnamese authorities before sending them back to their homeland.
rights NGOs said they feared for the safety of the girls and felt the court had
acted incorrectly in issuing the arrest warrants.
"We're very concerned
with the court's action on this case," said Naly Pilorge, deputy head of
Licadho. "These young girls reported a crime to the court. Instead of looking
into the crime committed, they're focusing on the victims."
rights workers were similarly outraged. Human Rights Watch (HRW) expressed
"strong concern" over the arrests.
"Authorities should be protecting,
not punishing, victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation, especially if
they are minors," said Sara Colm, HRW's representative. "The real criminals who
should be put in jail are the traffickers and brothel
"Trafficking and sexual exploitation are the major crimes
allegedly committed here," she said. "That seems to be escaping the courts right
The UN Human Rights spokesperson, Francesca Marotta, said "a lot
still needs to be clarified" because her organization had not yet confirmed
whether the girls were minors or trafficked. But either situation, she said,
would mean the girls were victims, and more investigation was required before
such "drastic action" was taken.
Human trafficking in Cambodia was the
subject of a June 5 report from the US State Department, which warned that
unless the country made progress combating the crime by early next year, it
would be subject to aid sanctions under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act