PM Unworried About Possible US Sanctions

Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wed­nesday that he is not interested in the fact that the US has downgraded Cambodia on its global anti-trafficking list and could possibly im­pose sanctions.

“The United States used to drop bombs on Cambodia. I am not in­ter­ested in [the downgrading],” the premier told reporters outside Chak­­­tomuk Theater.

“The bombs exploded over all prov­inces and our people suffered,” Hun Sen added. “If the United States considers us good or bad, it is their opinion. Don’t be angry with them.”

The US State Department said Fri­day that Cambodia has been down­graded to tier three on its an­ti-trafficking list, citing the government’s handling of the Afesip case and a perception that senior government officials are involved in hu­man trafficking but are not being punished.

The US Embassy declined comment Wed­nesday, but rights ac­ti­vists said they were disheartened by Hun Sen’s re­marks.

The government is risking ap­pearing belligerent toward the in­ternational community, said Rodney Hatfield, UN Children’s Fund country representative.

“No country on earth should be in­­volved in trafficking. Any country not doing everything it can to prevent it can expect to be a victim” of actions like the downgrading, Hatfield said.

“Global pressure is increasing,” he added, though he noted Cam­bo­dia may not necessarily re­spond well to a negative incentive. “The stick does­n’t work very well in Cambodia.”

Despite Hun Sen’s remarks, there is a general understanding among government officials that traf­ficking remains an issue, said Talmage Payne, country director of the Christian NGO World Vi­sion.

“Regardless of how they feel about the US, they are signatories to these basic conventions on human rights,” he said.

One former victim of forced pros­ti­tution supported by World Vi­sion said in an interview Wed­nesday that the government should take trafficking seriously.

The 17-year-old from Kompong Cham province, who asked not to be named, recounted how she was sold to a brothel in Koh Kong prov­ince at the age of 14.

She was forced to have sex with three to five men every day and was beaten with electric ca­bles, de­prived of food and locked up if she re­­fused.

Over a two-year period of sex slavery she contracted HIV/AIDS be­fore escaping.

After her mother abandoned her, she returned to work as a prostitute in the parks near the National As­sembly and Hun Sen’s Phnom Penh residence.

“At first I wanted to die,” she said. “A person like me really needs help…. People who trick women and girls into being sold to brothels should be punished.”

Margaret Eno, project coordinator of M’Lop Tapang, an NGO working with children who have been sexually abused in Siha­noukville, said Hun Sen’s remarks “make you think there is no hope.”

“We urge [Hun Sen] to take trafficking seriously. There are still children going to brothels,” she said. “They can’t push it under the carpet.”

Mu Sochua, former minister of women’s affairs and now an opposition party member, said she was “ap­­palled that Cambodia goes out and asks for aid” but then ignores international concern about human trafficking.

“[Hun Sen] may not be interested, but the Cambodian people are very interested,” she said. “Does it mean that he doesn’t care that women and children are being sold? Does it mean he doesn’t care about the damage to Cambodia’s international image? Does it mean his ‘iron fist’ is not working?”

But there have been some recent improvements in Cam­bodia’s ap­proach to trafficking, despite the handling of the Afesip case, said Anne Horsley, an anti-trafficking pro­ject coordinator with the International Organization for Migration.

The Ministry of Social Affairs is getting better at tracing the families of Cambodian trafficking victims and helping them return from Vietnam and Thailand, she said.

The Ministry of Women’s Af­fairs has also been informing district and provincial authorities about the im­por­tance of combating trafficking, and arrests made by the Interior Min­istry’s anti-trafficking department appear to be increasing, she said.

“I’m not saying this is perfect by any means, but it’s important not to ig­nore that there is a foundation,” Horsley said.

The US needs to focus on Cam­bo­dia’s improvements, Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavy said, adding that the government is willing to combat trafficking.

“I am really sorry that the USA considers the Afesip case a major is­sue,” she said. “They should un­derstand the country is working hard to enhance judicial reform to find justice for victims.”

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