Human Rights Watch has issued a critical response to the US State Department’s annual human trafficking report, released last week.
“For the third consecutive year, the State Department report fails to give hard figures on the number of people being trafficked,” said LaShawn Jefferson executive director of the Women’s Rights Division of the NGO, in a Human Rights Watch statement.
“The report gives undue credit for minimal effort and ignores government practices, such as summary deportation and incarceration that effectively punish trafficking victims.”
The trafficking report upgraded Cambodia from the implicitly criminal Tier 3where countries do not make the minimum efforts to curb trafficking, to the wide-ranging Tier 2, where countries are not yet in compliance with US standards but are deemed to be making significant efforts to curb trafficking. Tier 3 nations are subject to US-imposed economic sanctions, as Cambodia was sternly warned in April.
Human Rights Watch called Tier 2 a “consistent shortcoming” and a “catch-all category” in its statement. “Tier 2 comprises countries of various trafficking records. The report also fails adequately to explain its concrete minimum standards for countries to move up tiers.”
Although Human Rights Watch did not include Cambodia in its list of nations that should have remained in Tier 3, its complaint of trafficking victims being punished could be applied to Cambodia’s treatment of freed prostitutes over the past year.
In June 2002 Ministry of Interior police arrested 14 Vietnamese girls—all younger than 16—on immigration charges after the girls were rescued from Svay Pak district brothels and were being kept in the custody of the NGO Afesip. The case led rights observers to question the government’s conviction against trafficking.
But while other, less prominent cases since have also drawn criticism against law enforcement and the judiciary, a brothel rescue in late March, which freed 37 girls and women, was hailed a success, with Minister of Women’s Affairs Mu Sochua offering her assurances that the trafficking victims would be treated as such, not illegal aliens.
Sara Colm, a Human Rights Watch Asia officer, said Monday that Cambodia was spared inclusion in Human Rights Watch’s list of nations that should have remained Tier 3 primarily because of the group’s consultations with local NGOs. She said most NGO representatives felt the government had made some progress and that economic sanctions could only hurt Cambodia, not spur anti-trafficking efforts.
Colm added that “Cambodia’s record continues to be poor,” particularly in areas of “follow-through,” such as security and medical attention for rescued trafficking victims.
Though Colm described the State Department’s classification system as a “fairly meaningless evaluative tool”—Tier 2 members include countries offensive by widely varying degrees—she said local NGOs will monitor the government closely in the coming year to see if Cambodia deserves to remain in Tier 2 or be dropped back to Tier 3. Human Rights Watch said Laos, Japan, Malaysia, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia should remain in Tier 3.