Cambodia is making progress in the fight against human trafficking according a new US State Department report that evaluates government efforts to “punish traffickers, protect victims and prevent trafficking from occurring.”
The annual Trafficking in Persons study, which was released Wednesday night, analyzes and ranks the anti-trafficking efforts of 170 countries, and is considered a worldwide benchmark.
Cambodia was upgraded to Tier Two on the State Department ranking, which means Cambodia “does not fully comply” with minimum standards set in the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act but is “making significant efforts” to do so.
For the past two years, Cambodia has been on what’s called the “Tier Two Watch List,” which is essentially a warning that a country is in danger of being downgraded to Tier Three. Tier Three labels a country as failing to adequately fight human trafficking, according to the study, and “could trigger the withholding by the United States of non-humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance.”
This tier upgrade was heralded as a success Thursday afternoon during a news conference at the Ministry of Interior.
Minister of Interior Sar Kheng and US Embassy Charge d’Affairs Piper Campbell credited the tier promotion to efforts by government officials, law enforcement officers, human rights advocates and community groups throughout the country.
“These achievements would not have been possible without a strong commitment at the highest levels of government,” Campbell said.
“Together we will continue to commit ourselves to the task of ending trafficking,” Sar Kheng said.
The TIP report describes Cambodia as a source and destination country for trafficking victims, citing evidence of people being forced into prostitution, fishing, construction, domestic work and begging.
The report lauds efforts by Cambodia’s government, specifically a new national anti-trafficking task force; increased law enforcement; and the investigation of “complicit officials.” It also noted Cambodia’s controversial new Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation, calling it a “powerful tool in efforts to prosecute and convict traffickers and have them face stringent punishments.”
The 2008 TIP report put 29 countries in Tier One, 70 countries in Tier Two and 40 countries on the Tier Two Watch List. There were 14 countries grouped in Tier Three.
Local anti-trafficking industry insiders said they were pleased by Cambodia’s new rank. It serves as evidence that anti-trafficking efforts are working, said Chin Chanveasna, executive director of the NGO End Child Prostitution, Abuse and Trafficking in Cambodia.
“Congratulations to the government for having the rank two,” said Samleang Seila, country director for anti-pedophile NGO Action Pour les Enfants. “But I should remark, it is just a beginning of the big future challenge. We have to ensure that trafficking in human persons and commercial sexual exploitation does not occur anywhere in Cambodia.”
Sar Kheng and Campbell also addressed concerns expressed Wednesday when about 500 sex workers rallied against the new anti-trafficking law, saying that the resulting string of brothel closures by police in recent months has led to violent abuse, theft and the “collapse” of HIV/AIDS-prevention and healthcare programs among sex workers.
Campbell said that the US has long been a leader in HIV/AIDS prevention and care, and while anti-trafficking efforts—such as the brother closures—may change the way such assistance is distributed, it “continues to be a priority.”
Sar Kheng said the government welcomes receiving reports of abuse, but “we have yet to see any actual complaints.”