The US will impose stiff economic sanctions against Cambodia if its poor record on human trafficking does not improve, a US official said last week.
The US-imposed aid limitations hinge on the US State Department’s third annual Trafficking in Humans Report, scheduled to be completed by the end of April and released to the public in June.
In 2002, Cambodia—along with 19 other countries, including Afghanistan, Burma and Indonesia—were placed in the Tier 3 category of countries in the State Department’s trafficking report. Tier 3, the lowest ranking, is reserved for countries that “do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards,” according to the report.
“This year, for the first time, those countries in Tier 3 of the [Trafficking in Persons] report will face the loss of non-humanitarian and non-trade related aid,” said John Miller, senior adviser and director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, according to the US Federal Document Clearing House.
Speaking to the US Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs on April 9, Miller said countries in Asia face serious problems with human trafficking and “need to do much more.”
Currently, the US provides approximately $30 million per year in economic aid to Cambodia, with most of that money going to local NGOs. In June 2002, however, the US resumed direct aid to the government in the form of $10 million to fund HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention programs.
The $30 million given by the US is only $5 million less than what Cambodia received before 1997, when the US ceased providing direct aid to Cambodia due to factional fighting.
“We don’t need another country to impose sanctions on us—you have to clean up your house yourself,” said Minister of Women’s Affairs Mu Sochua last week.
Mu Sochua said, however, that she is well aware of the lack of enforcement of human traffickers and the scope of the problem.
“People in the communities know who the traffickers are, and the police need to provide solid evidence against the perpetrators,” she said. “There is no monitoring or pressure [of traffickers]—people are charged with crimes, but being charged is not the end. They need to be convicted.”
The Ministry of Interior in 2002 sent to the courts 53 cases of sex offenses for prosecution, and 41 perpetrators—traffickers, pedophiles and rapists—were convicted and sentenced to prison, according to the State Department’s 2002 human rights report on Cambodia.
In total, eight Cambodians, 28 Vietnamese, three Chinese, one Italian and one Australian were convicted, the report states.
Similarly, police officials—acting on information provided by the US-based NGO International Justice Mission—conducted a major brothel raid in the Svay Pak red-light district on March 29. During the raid, police rescued 37 Vietnamese women and girls—some as young as 5—and arrested 13 Vietnamese men and women suspected of being human traffickers and brothel operators.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court later charged the 13 with selling underage girls and women for sexual purposes.
US Embassy spokeswoman Heide Bronke said previously that it is still too early to determine whether or not Cambodia would remain at Tier 3, but said that the March 29 brothel raid was a step in the right direction.