The US Senate has approved a $15.8 billion foreign aid bill which, if passed into law, would provide direct aid to Cambodia to help the Ministry of Women’s Affairs fight human trafficking.
The same Senate bill prohibits US funding for the Khmer Rouge tribunal unless the US Congress is convinced “the tribunal is capable of delivering justice for crimes…in an impartial and credible manner.”
US Embassy officials in Phnom Penh hailed the news of direct funding for anti-trafficking efforts, but cautioned the bill is not a law yet, and is likely to change in the next few weeks as US legislators continue work.
They noted that in the US legislature, bills passed by the Senate typically differ slightly from those passed in the US House of Representatives, and must be made to agree before they can be signed into law.
Compromises are reached in House-Senate conference committees, and sometimes provisions favored in one house of Congress are killed by opposition in the other house.
One embassy official said it was likely the anti-trafficking funds would make it through, but predicted an attempt to block funding for the Khmer Rouge trial would not survive.
The US banned direct aid to Cambodia after the 1997 factional fighting, but resumed it for AIDS research earlier this year. Each year since 1997, members of Congress critical of the administration of Prime Minister Hun Sen have moved to block resumption of aid to Cambodia.
This year’s Senate bill states aid can be resumed if Congress is convinced Cambodia is making real progress in the area of human rights, including the 1994 and 1997 grenade attacks on minority political parties; holds free and fair commune council elections; and makes “significant progress” in conserving the environment.
The embassy official said the US position has been pretty consistent in recent years, but the anti-trafficking money—provided in an amendment by Senator Sam Brownback, a Republican from the US state of Kansas—represents real progress.
Mu Sochua, minister of Women’s Affairs, agreed.
“That is such good news! We worked so hard on that!” she said Thursday.
Brownback is committed to fighting trafficking worldwide and sent an aide to Cambodia about three months ago to gather data, Mu Sochua said.
“She stayed for about a week, and she had done a lot of homework before she came,” said Mu Sochua. “We told her the government is committed to ending trafficking, but there are many, many problems,” including a weak judiciary and police sometimes involved in the sex trade.
It remained unclear how much money might be heading to Cambodia if the Brownback amendment is included in the final foreign aid bill.