Police: Courts Not Stopping Human Trafficking

Cambodia’s failing judicial system has marred efforts to crack down on human trafficking and clean up the country’s image abroad as a haven for pedophiles and sex tourists, police and hu­man rights workers said.

“We have done good things, and we have been praised for the crackdown. The problem is the courts that always release these people,” said Tuoch Ngim, deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s anti-human trafficking department.

Corruption in the courts will likely be addressed this week by John Miller, a top US State Department official scheduled to arrive today on a human trafficking fact-finding mission. His report will be included in the US’ annual global report on trafficking, a document that comes attached with possible economic sanctions for countries that rank poorly.

Last year, Cambodia jumped from the lowest ranking to ‘Tier 2’ —a mid-level designation for governments that have shown an effort to stop trafficking.

Anti-trafficking police investigated 455 sex crimes last year and arrested 392 offenders, according to Christian Guth, a UNICEF adviser to the Interior Ministry. In 2002, police arrested 208 people out of 253 cases investigated, he said.

“On the one hand, high-profile cases have raised awareness in the public…. But on the other hand, I have to question the work done after the arrest. Many times suspects are released on bail or charges are dropped,” said Naly Pilorge, director of local human rights group Licadho.

“I’m not convinced that the

suspects—the right suspects—are being convicted,” she said.

Frustration peaked in December when Judge Ham Mengse dropped charges against a 73-year-old Austrian man who admitted to having sex with a girl and paying her family. The girl was documented as saying she was 14 and had sex with the man since she was 9, but the court ruled she was above the legal age of 15.

Pierre Legros, whose NGO Afesip houses and trains girls rescued from prostitution, noted that police and NGOs were working together better, and that some police officers seemed committed to reshaping Cambodia’s reputation as a home for traffickers.

“But Cambodia still has to improve its legal process…. The Ministry of Justice should fire people who are corrupted and not doing their jobs,” Legros said.

Touch Ngim also bemoaned corruption in the courts and said more funds were necessary to combat a trafficking industry that is on the rise here and across the region.

He said a greater police presence was needed on the borders of Thailand and Vietnam, where major trafficking routes lead into Cambodia and often into larger markets, like Malaysia.

An estimated 800 girls have been sold into prostitution in Malaysia through Cambodia, he said.

Miller, who is director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking of Persons, will meet with foreign and local officials, NGO heads and trafficking victims before his departure Sunday, said US Embassy spokesman David Gainer. The report is scheduled to be released in June.

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