The US State Department has bumped Cambodia up to Tier 2 in its annual report on human trafficking, which was released Wednesday. The new classification signifies the State Department’s assessment that “Cambodia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however it is making significant efforts to do so.”
The graduation from 2002’s Tier 3 status means Cambodia will not be subject to sanctions imposed by the US. Other countries escaping that bottom rank are Russia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Lebanon and Tajikistan.
All other Asean member states are also Tier 2, except for Singapore, which was not listed, and Burma, which remains in Tier 3.
Also in Tier 3 are Liberia, North Korea, Belize, Cuba, Greece, Turkey, Sudan, Georgia, Dominican Republic, Kazakhstan, Suriname, Uzbekistan and Bosnia and Herzegovinia.
The report praised the Ministry of Women’s and Veterans’ Affairs and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs for raising awareness of trafficking and for developing networks to alert potential trafficking victims of risks. It also lauded the Ministry of Tourism for staging workshops and distributing literature on the dangers of sex tourism.
However, there is much room for improvement in the prosecution of traffickers and protection of victims, the report said. A “comprehensive” anti-trafficking law is needed, and a corrupt judiciary and a backed-up caseload also hinder prosecution, the report said. Additionally, “The government needs to take aggressive steps to address the involvement of public officials and their families in trafficking.“
Despite the existence of government- and NGO-run shelters, trafficking victims are at risk of “being taken out of these shelters and retrafficked.” The report recommended devoting more resources to the protection of victims.
Speaking at a Wednesday news conference in Washington, the director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons responded to a reporter’s question about Cambodia’s upgraded classification.
“Without going through all the details on prevention and protection and prosecution, I will just say that in the last several months, working with our embassy, working with people in our office, working with international organizations and working with leading nongovernmental organization, International Justice Mission, Cambodia has had many arrests, convictions and sentences of traffickers. The government has shown a significant effort in the area of prostitution that was not there. We hope that will continue,” John Miller said.
The investigations of Washington-based IJM led to the rescue of 14 Vietnamese girls last June and 37 girls, some as young as 5, in March. IJM has drawn some criticism, however, for parachuting into Cambodia and not coordinating with local authorities and rights workers. Following their rescue, the 14 Vietnamese girls were taken from a shelter by police who arrested them on immigration charges.
But Cambodia’s graduation was generally welcomed Thursday by local human rights observers, although they agreed with the report that much work remains to be done.
Chantoul Oung, director of the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, called the report “good news.”
“I agree that Cambodia [does] not have a law on trafficking, but the government has tried lots of things,” she said.
She went on to praise the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs for its efforts to reintegrate girls rescued from prostitution into their home communities and to train anti-trafficking police and the Assembly’s efforts to establish a new anti-trafficking law.
“They have commitment, but they need to move faster,” she said.
Pierre Legros, adviser to rights group Afesip, said that the Tier 2 classification was good because Cambodia did not need US sanctions, which he could not foresee encouraging anti-trafficking measures. He said it is now important to “keep up pressure on the country.”
Minister of Women’s Affairs Mu Sochua agreed that efforts cannot lag now. “Tier 3 was a warning, and we took the warning seriously,” she said. “We still have to accomplish more than this to stay in Tier 2…and we will.”
Prosecution is imperative, she said, adding that the Interior Ministry should prosecute and not simply demote police officials involved in trafficking.
Licadho Director Naly Pilorge was more cautious. “We are unsure if [what the State Department considers] progress will lead to a positive outcome at this point.”
She added that the traffickers her organization has seen jailed have mostly been low-ranking, such as poverty-stricken mothers who may have sold their children or a neighbor may have who duped a child into prostitution.
Om Yientieng, adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen on human rights, said he had not yet seen the report and therefore could not comment.