Government Reports Decrease in Human Trafficking

As the government reports a decrease in human trafficking nationwide, human rights organisations urge for stricter enforcement on what they still regard as a "serious issue"
Interior Minister Sar Kheng speaks at a meeting about fighting human trafficking, August 19, 2022. Kiripost via Chou Bun Eng
Interior Minister Sar Kheng speaks at a meeting about fighting human trafficking, August 19, 2022. Kiripost via Chou Bun Eng

The Cambodian government has reported a decrease in human trafficking in the first half of 2022 compared to 2021, while human-rights organisations call for the strengthening of law enforcement as Cambodia ranks the third worst human trafficking nation in 2022.

During the celebration of National Anti-Human Trafficking Day on December 12, under the theme "Together to Eliminate Human Trafficking Towards Achieving Sustainable Development Goals" at Koh Pich Center, Chou Bun Eng, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Interior and Permanent Vice Chairman of the National Committee for Combating Human Trafficking (NEC), stated that in the first half of 2022, the situation of human trafficking has improved, with the crime rate significantly reduced compared to 2021.

However, he added that when the prevention and suppression of human trafficking, labor trafficking and sex trafficking improves, new crimes emerge in Cambodia. This is caused by some criminals hiding to commit crimes in fraudulent business, taking advantage of the opportunities the government provides for investment for development in large economic hubs, such as Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh and some other provinces, to commit crimes against human rights.

From August 18 to November, the NEC found 1,122 people, of which 121 were females, among those who declared themselves victims. Of those, 153 were identified as victims of human trafficking, detention and forced labor, 18 of whom were women from six nationalities. Others denied any wrongdoing, no harm had been caused and they want to move to a new job with a higher salary or just a family concern.

Sar Kheng, Acting Prime Minister and Chairman of the NEC, said that 2022 is an opportunity to organize the National Anti-Human Trafficking Day under the joint theme of eliminating the crime to achieve national development goals that are sustainable and in line with the vision and commitment of the government to maintain social security and safety as a basis for long-term national development in all areas.

He stated that the unplanned return of Cambodian workers from target countries during Covid-19 in 2020 and 2021 has increased to more than 300,000 people illegally entering Cambodia.

“It is at this stage that border management is complicated by the increasing number of returning workers every day, with many illegal immigrants having the opportunity to enter Cambodia illegally and go into hiding. Working with some corrupt employers who create anarchy on Cambodian territory,” he said.

He added that in such a situation, the Government of Cambodia has not been indifferent and has launched operational measures to actively explore, crack down on and eradicate all forms of human trafficking and other related crimes in accordance with the law.

“Cambodia has been actively involved in the process of adopting the ASEAN Convention against Human Trafficking, the Global Covenant on safe, orderly and legal migration (GCM). It has been recognized by the United Nations Department of Migration as the "winner country of the Global Convention on Migration" for its commitment to protecting the interests and legitimate rights of migrant workers and protecting them from "victims of abuse and exploitation in all its forms,” he continued.

Kheng called on the leaders of civil servants, authorities, law enforcement forces and civil servants at all levels to work hard to monitor the phenomenon and other crimes, and control the border to prevent common causes that lead to human trafficking and abuse.

Am Sam Ath, operations director of Licadho, told Kiripost on Tuesday that even though the government has stated that human trafficking in Cambodia is lower compared to the previous year, he still considers the issue to be serious after America ranked the nation as third worst in the world in 2022.

“We acknowledge that there is a crackdown on human trafficking in Cambodia but we still consider it a serious problem. Because modern trafficking is now forced by modernization, such as cyber scams online which involve labor and sex trafficking. We demand that Cambodia must train professional officers in modern crime trafficking in order to be notified on how to prevent the [human trafficking] on time,” he said.

He suggested that the government should strengthen cooperation between both internal and external authorities, including other national and international cooperation, to identify human trafficking criminals that flow into Cambodia.

“Corruption must be eradicated​ since it is also the root of human trafficking and the fifth issue, law enforcement must be strict​. This means law implementation has to be done even though the people that are involved in that [human] trafficking matters have [high] social status in society, we must follow the law no matter what so we can prevent and decrease the amount of human trafficking,” he advised.

The US Treasury’s downgrade of Cambodia to “Tier 3” – the lowest rating – in its 2022 Trafficking in Persons report, put the country at risk of sanctions and reduced foreign assistance.