Cambodia Defends Efforts to Stamp Out Human Trafficking

Authorities have responded to OHCHR’s grave concerns about human trafficking in Cambodia, with a report outlying action taken to stamp out the crimes countrywide
Suspects detained following raids in Preah Sihanouk province. Kiripost/supplied
Suspects detained following raids in Preah Sihanouk province. Kiripost/supplied

Cambodian officials have lodged a report with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in response to concerns about reports that human trafficking is rife in the country.

In response to grave concerns raised by the UN body in September, the National Committee for Counter Trafficking (NCCT) has sent a report to OHCHR outlining measures taken to eradicate human trafficking rings that have been reported countrywide.

The report said the “accusations” that Cambodia had received 100,000 trafficked people at the end of 2021 “surprised” the government. It added authorities remain “committed to investigation to figure out offenses in order to eliminate trafficking in persons and immediately rescue the victims”.

It added that the pandemic provided the perfect breeding ground for illegal activities, with more than 300,000 overseas Cambodian workers returning home. “[This] opened up the opportunity for offenders to transfer people to Cambodia via various border gates at the same time,” the report said.

To combat the crimes, the government has set up various mechanisms and working groups. However, the report said results have been limited due to the American Embassy and human rights groups raising concerns about the impact of privacy rights at locations and businesses with foreign workers.

“Therefore, the operation was limited to investigation and suppression only of any suspicious entity or location following the specific reporting or intervention from victims, their families, their friends, NGOs, or their country embassies,” it stated.

However, reporting channels have been put in place and operations conducted to rescue victims, arrest offenders and shut down relevant businesses.

Between August 18 and October 19, 2022, 496 requests were lodged countrywide involving 1,310 people. Chinese nationals formed the bulk, with 430. This was followed by 398 Vietnamese. A total of seven Cambodians were rescued, including four women. Two American nationals were also saved.

The report noted that not all filed complaints result in illegal activities being found. This was often due to insufficient information or operations having moved location ahead of raids.

In addition, the report claimed not all complaints are genuine. Some did so because they wanted to leave their current employment in search of higher paid jobs. Others were illegal workers trying to escape the law, and some were families making complaints as they were suspicious their relatives had become a victim of trafficking.

The report, signed by Chou Bun Eng, Permanent Vice Chairperson of NCCT, said the country has adopted various laws that cover trafficking, human rights, and child and victim protection. It also stated that women and children are priority targets.

The government has also worked in partnership with various embassies to ensure the safe repatriation of victims, and is working with the courts to bring perpetrators to trial. Authorities have also ramped up efforts to find illegal workers, with operations netting 2,760 illegal foreign workers from 14 nationalities.

“Human trafficking and other offenses happening in Cambodia these days are new experiences for Cambodia to tackle and are lessons learnt for Cambodia itself and other countries against offender networks in such broad and transnational crimes. All criticisms or blame for this confronting situation are an invocation for the Government of Cambodia to be more cautious and more competent in response to offenses,” the report concluded.

In July, the US State Department downgraded Cambodia to Tier 3, the lowest level in its Trafficking in Persons annual report. The report stated, “NGOs allege police and other officials were complicit in online scam operations that forced hundreds of PRC, Southeast Asian, and other foreign nationals to work in call centres in Sihanoukville and other locations.”