The government’s interministerial committee established to investigate the Dec 8 raid on an Afesip women’s shelter has found that no officials or members of the armed forces were involved. Instead, the report found that women inside the shelter attacked the gate from the inside because they wanted to escape.
“The situation [seemed] terrible, but when we investigated this problem, the result shows it was not bad,” said Touch Samon, chief secretary of the committee.
The committee found that a sport utility vehicle and two Toyota Camrys were present the morning of the incident, but the SUV belonged to a relative of a woman inside the shelter, and the Camrys belonged to journalists with Rasmei Kampuchea newspaper, Touch Samon said.
The vehicles had all left by the time the women and girls broke free, he said, adding that all the women have denied they are sex workers, and all claim to be over 18.
“According to the primary information we got, there was one 16-year-old girl, but after investigating we found she was 21, because we checked the family book. She told police she was 19, but police confused 19 with 16,” Touch Samon said.
On Dec 10, at least 50 of the 83 women and girls taken from the shelter were presented to reporters at the Chai Hour II Hotel. At least 10 of them appeared to be in their mid-teens.
A written copy of the committee’s report was not immediately provided on Thursday.
Afesip is not satisfied with the committee’s conclusions, legal adviser Aarti Kapoor said.
She criticized the committee for ignoring the allegations of human trafficking against the hotel, and the release of eight trafficking suspects arrested following the Dec 7 police raid on the hotel.
“They’ve completely ignored the whole case,” aside from the shelter break-in, she said.
“There has been a cover-up of what really happened,” she added. “The interministerial committee has believed the cover-up.”
Eighty-one of the females were interviewed by the committee, Touch Samon said. But two left the hotel and could not be interviewed, he added.
Three construction workers who witnessed the shelter raid were also interviewed by the committee, along with relatives of the women
On Dec 14, the three workers told reporters they witnessed about 30 men kick, push and smash the gate of the shelter with rocks, causing the gate to give way.
Some of the women and girls were then ushered into SUVs, while others fled on motorbike taxis, the workers said. One of the vehicles had a police license plate, one worker said.
The US has threatened to downgrade Cambodia on its global anti-trafficking watchdog list for its handling of the Afesip case, which could entail sanctions.
On Jan 18, the US State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons said there was evidence to doubt “the integrity and honesty” of the committee.
The US embassy declined comment on the findings Thursday.