Shoddy police work and inadequate court investigations resulting in a lack of evidence have led to the release or mild punishment of alleged human traffickers, experts and government officials said Wednesday.
Because the majority of police and investigating judges were not trained to deal with human trafficking cases and had no experience in doing so, trials were hampered by poor evidence, which can lead to the release of perpetrators, Ith Rady, undersecretary of state with the Ministry of Justice, said on the sidelines of a meeting on human trafficking in Phnom Penh.
“If there’s no evidence, [judges] will decide to release” human traffickers, he said.
“It affects the court hearing because the evidence [police and court staff] collect doesn’t match what is needed” to prosecute a perpetrator, Mr. Rady added.
Mr. Rady said he had conducted research into seven human trafficking cases where police or the court released the suspects on the back of inadequate investigations.
The research also showed that although the court could order police to reinvestigate cases that lacked evidence, such requests were hardly ever submitted.
“We have found no letters from judges to police to ask them to collect more evidence. They work separately and [think] when my task is finished, I am done,” he said.
Last week, the U.S. State Department downgraded Cambodia in its latest global Trafficking in Persons Report in part because the government prosecuted and convicted fewer trafficking offenders and identified fewer victims than it did in the previous year. The Foreign Affairs Ministry has since rebuked the report and pointed out that the government arrested 133 suspects last year for trafficking, convicted 300 perpetrators and rescued 458 victims.
Still, the prosecution of brokers who traffic migrant worker across borders, where they are forced to work under slave-like conditions, also proved to be erroneous, according to Mr. Rady’s research.
“From the police to the investigating judge, there is no request for collaboration” in cross-border cases and no requests for evidence to be sent, he said.
(Additional reporting by Kaing Menghun)