Despite progress made in recent months in arresting and prosecuting human traffickers, the US has decided not to upgrade Cambodia from the bottom tier on its global anti-trafficking watchdog list, and subsequent US sanctions will come into affect on Oct 1, the US Embassy said Thursday.
The sanctions are expected to be limited in their scope as they do not apply to humanitarian and trade-related aid, which make up the bulk of US assistance to Cambodia.
“The government of Cambodia did not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and has not made significant efforts to do so over the last year,” US Embassy spokesman John Daigle said.
“Cambodia was placed on tier three for its lack of progress in combating serious forms of trafficking, particularly its failure to convict traffickers and public officials involved in trafficking,” he added.
The US downgraded Cambodia to tier three in June in the wake of the Afesip case. Cambodia was later told it could be upgraded and avoid sanctions if it complied with minimum standards for combating trafficking or made significant efforts to do so.
Despite the continued downgrading, Daigle stressed that the US appreciates Cambodia’s recent anti-trafficking efforts.
The sanctions are not expected to affect US funding to organizations working in anti-trafficking such as World Vision and International Justice Mission.
Cambodia was among 14 countries listed in June by the US State Department as failing to adequately address trafficking problems.
Of the 14, US President George W Bush has concluded that Bolivia, Jamaica, Qatar, Sudan, Togo and the United Arab Emirates had made enough improvements to avoid any cut in US aid. In the case of countries that get no US financial assistance, they faced the barring of their officials from cultural or educational events in the US or sponsored by the US in a country hosting the events, The Associated Press reported Thursday.
Cambodia and Venezuela were not considered to have made adequate improvements, but Bush cleared both countries to receive limited assistance for such things as combating trafficking.
Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, both US allies in the Middle East, were given a complete pass on any sanctions along with Ecuador, The Associated Press reported.
Burma, Cuba and North Korea were the only countries among the 14 to get the brunt of the sanctions, The Associated Press said.
Khieu Sopheak, Interior Ministry spokesman, said Cambodia is strongly committed to fighting trafficking.
“Cambodia doesn’t want to be at the bottom of the class,” Khieu Sopheak said, adding: “So far this year more than 400 suspects have been arrested and sent to court.”
Authorities have recently arrested the owner and manager of the scandal-wracked Chai Hour II Hotel as well as two trafficking suspects, and rescued victims from the establishment, he said.
“This is one of the achievements we’ve made so far. And previously to the Chai Hour, we’ve rescued hundreds of victims,” Khieu Sopheak said.
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith declined comment, as did Om Yentieng, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s adviser.
Mu Sochua, former minister of Women’s Affairs and opposition party member, said she was pleased the sanctions would be limited.
“I’m happy that the people of Cambodia don’t have to suffer sanctions because of the inadequate performance of the government,” she said.
One member of the anti-trafficking community in Phnom Penh played down the US’ announcement.
“If they said International Justice Mission would go back to America and World Vision’s funds would be cut, it would be sanctions,” he said on condition of anonymity. “It seems to be a threat, no more.”
(Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul)