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Nominated Anti-Trafficking Czar Looks to Push Authorities, Help Victims

To combat trafficking in countries like Cambodia, the US State Department should rely on its annual human trafficking report to sway Cambodian policy and victim-centered approaches such as shelters to ease the plights of trafficked victims, Mark Lagon, incoming anti-trafficking czar told a panel of Senators Wednesday.

He told the Senators he was dedicated to helping victims—not persecuting them—while pushing governments to do more to abolish modern-day slavery.

Lagon, whom President George W. Bush nominated to be the US anti-trafficking ambassador to foreign countries, told the Senate Foreign Relations panel that the annual Trafficking in Persons report was a way to induce countries like Cambodia to improve their anti-trafficking efforts.

"Trafficking in persons and human trafficking are euphemisms for modern-day slavery," he said in a prepared statement. "Because human trafficking relies on corruption and fraud to succeed, it weakens the rule of law, inviting organized crime to flourish."

Lagon must be approved by the Senate before he can begin his work as an ambassador-at-large for the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. He spoke to a small panel of three US Senators from the Foreign Relations Committee in a hearing that was attended by VOA Khmer.

Human trafficking, especially for the sex trade, remains a problem in Cambodia.

Last year the State Department raised the country from "Tier Three" to "Tier Two" status in its annual "Trafficking in Persons" report, saying authorities had made efforts to combat the problem.

Critics say trafficking in Cambodia continues not only with the knowledge of authorities but sometimes with their collusion.

National Police Chief Gen. Hok Lundy visited Washington last month for talks with US law enforcement agencies, prompting sharp rebukes from rights organizations that implicated him in serious crimes, such as human trafficking, extrajudicial killings and the orchestration of the 1997 grenade attack on opposition demonstrators.

Lagon did not cite Hok Lundy specifically but said in general the State Department wanted to focus on victim assistance, ensuring sex workers and other modern-day slaves are not criminalized.