Just one year after raising it up, the US State Department has once again lowered Cambodia’s rating back down on the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which was released Wednesday.
Last year, Cambodia was promoted to the department’s Tier 2 rating for its “significant efforts” to meet minimum standards for preventing human trafficking, but that trend seems to have been reversed in the 2009 report, which drops the country onto the Tier 2 “watch list.”
“The government did not show evidence of progress in convicting and punishing human trafficking offenders—including complicit public officials—and protecting trafficking victims,” the report said.
The Tier 2 ranking is reserved for countries that do not meet minimum standards for fighting human trafficking, but are making adequate efforts to reach those standards.
The state department cited Cambodian authorities for a de-
crease in the number of trafficking convictions after the 2008 anti-human trafficking law was enacted-only 12 trafficking suspects were convicted between April 2008 and March 2009, compared to 52 in the same period a year earlier.
It also alleged that corruption in the police ranks and in the courts has contributed to trafficking problems in Cambodia.
“It is widely believed that many individuals, including police and judicial officials, are both directly and indirectly involved in trafficking. Some local police and government officials are known to extort money or accept bribes from brothel owners, sometimes on a daily basis, in order to allow the brothels to continue operating,” the report read.
Among the many instances of human trafficking mentioned in the report are Cambodian children sold into brothels or as domestic servants, women forced into prostitution at karaoke bars and brothels, and Cambodian men compelled to work on Thai fishing boats and Malaysian plantations.
US Embassy spokesman John Johnson could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but a press release issued by the embassy said, “The past year has witnessed a decline in efforts to combat trafficking in persons.”
The Director of the Interior Ministry’s anti-human trafficking department, Bith Kimhong, said he was not aware of the new report, but said that police were doing their best.
“We are cracking down by investigating in order to arrest the perpetrators and prosecute them. As for prevention, we are broadcasting on the news, telling people to prevent trafficking,” he said.
“We have prevented and cracked down on many cases in 2009,” Mr Kimhong added, although he said he could not provide statistics because he was not in his office.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Wednesday that he could not accept the report’s conclusion that the government isn’t taking strong enough action against trafficking.
“Khmers have a culture that prioritizes women,” he said. “The government works very hard in anti-human trafficking.”
Naly Pilorge, director of local human rights group Licadho, said that she wasn’t sure why the State Department would have dropped Cambodia’s rating, and could not comment on the report. “We haven’t had time to look at it,” she said.