According to the 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report by the US Embassy in Cambodia, the Cambodian government does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so.
Due to this, the Kingdom was downgraded from Tier 2 to Tier 3 of the US Blacklist on Human Trafficking.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) places each country into a tier based on its government’s efforts to satisfy the TVPA’s minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking. Tier 1 is the highest rank a country can receive while Tier 3 is the lowest.
According to the report, the government did not provide adequate protection services for victims domestically or overseas and relied heavily on foreign donors and NGOs to provide much-needed care.
“Cambodia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so, even considering the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity, therefore Cambodia was downgraded to Tier 3,” the US Embassy said in a statement released yesterday.
While recognising the government’s “steps” to combat human trafficking, including justice procedures, victim identification and repatriation, the report claims that there is a lack of investigation and “hold criminally accountable” the officials who are involved in the crimes, particularly by conspiring with business owners in areas such as entertainment establishments, brick kilns, and online scam operations where people, especially women and children, are being trafficked.
“Therefore, officials also failed to proactively identify trafficking victims among these highly vulnerable populations,” the report added. “ The government did not provide adequate protection services for victims domestically or overseas and relied heavily on foreign donors and NGOs to provide much-needed care.”
Chou Bun Eng, vice-chairwoman of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking in Persons, said she could neither agree nor disagree with the report.
“For such a ranking, it depends on the criteria the writers based on. However, everyone knows that the authorities in Cambodia are working hard to combat human trafficking.”
“As long as new cases keep happening, no country is free from it. What is happening now is a new form of human trafficking which we had never dealt with before, and our ability to combat them had not been reflected in the previous years’ report,” said Bun Eng.
She also said that they have been doing their best to improve the situation. Their aim is to be higher in rank, and they have been working on four priorities, including prevention, law enforcement, justice and rescue.
Bun Eng said that they have also done a lot even during the pandemic.
“Yet, when we are downgraded like this, we are definitely not happy. To protect immigrants, we have cooperated with relevant countries, but sometimes those countries do not show enough cooperation,” said Bun Eng.
She added that other countries are not working well with them while conducting an operation, but have been doing very well when it comes to spreading negative information.
However, Bun Eng said that they are thankful to all the police who have assisted her in this.
Some of the priority recommendations from the report to the Cambodian government include investigating and prosecuting trafficking offences and convicts while respecting due process; adequately penalising sex and labour traffickers, including complicit officials with significant prison sentences; increasing funding to anti-trafficking law enforcement units and disbursing it in advance of investigations, rather than by reimbursement.
De The Hoya, programme officer for labour rights of the Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (CENTRAL) said the government has to take more serious action againsthuman trafficking.
“In Cambodia, in terms of Cambodian people who migrate abroad or people who come to work in Cambodia, especially the brokers, the traffickers, or any official who got involved with the process, should be arrested and imprisoned. This is what we would like to see,” he said.
“Don’t think that it is just a report to put the blame on Cambodia but Cambodians themselves need to reflect if it is real or not. And we, together, have to work against the trafficking together from now on,” he added.
The United States on Tuesday added Vietnam, Cambodia, Brunei and Macau to a human trafficking blacklist that already counts Malaysia, alleging weak efforts to stop forced sex work or assist migrant labourers.
In an annual report, the US also added authoritarian-ruled Belarus to the blacklist and, in a rare criticism of a Western ally, put Bulgaria on a watchlist over concerns it is not taking trafficking seriously.
Nations that are put on the blacklist – “Tier 3” – are subject to US sanctions, although the administration routinely waives punishment for friendly nations that promise improvements.