Cambodia improved one ranking in an annual US report on human trafficking released this week, while neighbors Thailand, Laos and Vietnam all dropped a notch.
Cambodia was upgraded to Tier 2 from Tier 2 Watch List in Monday’s report, which cited an upswing in prosecutions of trafficking offenders, with 36 convicted in 2009 compared to only 11 in 2008. Tier 2 is for a country that does not meet US anti-human trafficking standards but is apparently trying to do so.
“Law enforcement efforts stepped up significantly, resulting in a significant increase in convictions over the prior year,” stated the 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report, which is issued annually by the US State Department. “However, impunity, corruption and related rent-seeking behavior continue to impede progress in combating trafficking in persons.”
Thailand, Laos and Vietnam all switched places with Cambodia, dropping from Tier 2 to Tier 2 Watch List in the report, which cited shortcomings in law enforcement in Cambodia’s three neighbors.
In the Asia-Pacific region, both Australia and South Korea maintained the best ranking, Tier 1, while Burma and North Korea remained at Tier 3, the lowest ranking given.
Trafficking, as defined in the US report, is an umbrella term meaning “when one person obtains or holds another person in compelled service,” and includes forced labor and forced prostitution.
If a country is downgraded to Tier 3 status, it means that the US “may withhold non-humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance,” according to Monday’s report. A country is automatically made Tier 3 after being ranked Tier 2 Watch List for a third year running.
Cambodia was not yet in danger of this, although it has bounced between Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List and Tier 3 in the last ten years.
Secretary of State Chou Bun Eng, who is in charge of human trafficking at the Ministry of Interior, called Cambodia’s new ranking “quite good,” while saying there is room for improvement.
She said the fight against trafficking “was not done to satisfy anyone” but “as part of our national plan.”
Bith Kim Hong, head of the Ministry of Interior’s anti-trafficking police department, said past US reports dovetailed with this national plan.
“We followed their recommendations, and it was just the same as the government action plan,” he said.
There were 231 arrests in human trafficking cases in 2009, up 41 percent from the year before, Mr Kim Hong added.
Representatives of anti-human trafficking organizations said the improvement in the US report were in line with their own assessments of government anti-trafficking efforts in 2009.
“With the cases we worked on with the Cambodian police, we saw an increased number of successful prosecutions,” said Patrick Stayton, field office director of the International Justice Mission, an US-based NGO that secures justice for victims of slavery and sexual exploitation.
He said that by 2009, the courts had had time to acquaint themselves with the Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation, enacted in February 2008.
US Congressman Ed Royce, a Republican from California, criticized Cambodia’s upgrade in the new report.
“I regret that it appears that some countries like Cambodia have gotten a pass,” Mr Royce is quoted on his website as saying in a statement Monday.
“The 2010 report cites Cambodian children being trafficked to Thailand and Vietnam for forced labor, the sale of virgin girls ‘continues to be a serious problem,’ and a significant number of Asian foreign men ‘travel to Cambodia to engage in child sex tourism,'” said Mr Royce, a member of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, which heard testimony on Cambodia in September.
“We need to be sending a much stronger message that these forms of modern-day slavery [are] unacceptable,” Mr Royce said.