Ministry of Interior officials held a closed-door meeting Monday with NGO representatives to contest Cambodia’s recent downgrade on the U.S. State Department’s Global Trafficking in Persons Report, which the ministry will discuss in a meeting with the U.S. Embassy this week.
The annual report, released last month, moved Cambodia from Tier 2, where it had been for the past three years, down to the Tier 2 Watch List.
With a scale from Tier 1 being the best to Tier 3 the worst, the rankings often highlight the efforts, or lack of, that the government puts toward curbing human trafficking.
According to the latest report, Cambodia’s ranking was downgraded this year because fewer trafficking offenders were prosecuted in 2012 and no efforts were made to address corruption within the government that fuels human trafficking.
Present at the meeting, which was presided over by Secretary of State Chou Bun Eng, were the U.N. Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP), the International Organization for Migration, the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies (ACRA), Caram, Legal Support for Children and Women (LSCW) and Winrock International.
“This does not mean we are combating the results of the report but we want to clarify some points of the report,” Ms. Bun Eng said.
The report also says that the notorious Svay Pak brothel village near Phnom Penh, where child prostitution was openly sold for decades, continues to operate despite attempts by the police to close it down.
Ms. Bun Eng said Monday that Svay Pak’s continued operation “is not the will of the government,” and declined to comment further on Monday’s meeting. Results of the meeting will be raised at the U.S. Embassy on Wednesday, she said.
Attendants of the meeting remained tightlipped.
Ly Vichuta, director of LSCW, which has assisted in the repatriation of maids from Malaysia, said the meeting was held to discuss “what is right and what is not right” about the report.
“I am a bit upset because we worked hard, [our organization] and also the Ministry of Interior,” Ms. Vichuta said, declining to comment further.
Lim Tith, the national project coordinator for UNIAP, also declined to comment on the meeting.
After the publication of the report on June 21, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the report’s findings “untrue” and “ludicrous.”
The government arrested 133 suspects last year for human trafficking, convicted 300 perpetrators and rescued 458 victims, the Foreign Ministry statement says.
The U.S. trafficking report, however, said only 44 perpetrators were convicted last year.
Joel Preston, consultant for the Community Legal Education Center (CLEC)—which worked to repatriate more than 700 trafficked victims last year—said CLEC’s caseload increased by 1,000 percent in 2012 due to the trafficking of Cambodians to Thailand to work in a seafood-processing factory.
“This was carried out by an ACRA member, CDM Manpower, for which there was not a single prosecution,” Mr. Preston said. “The downgrade is more than warranted.”