Cambodia remains stagnant on a U.S. State Department human trafficking watch list, with the country’s law enforcement actions not meeting the requirements of existing U.S. trafficking legislation.
The report released Friday places Cambodia on a “Tier 2 Watch List” for the third consecutive year for not fully complying with the minimum standards set out in the United States' Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
“Because the government has devoted sufficient resources to a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute significant efforts to meet the minimum standards, Cambodia was granted a waiver per the Trafficking Victims Protection Act from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3,” the report reads, referring to the 2019 promulgation of the five-year National Strategic Plan to Combat Human Trafficking.
The U.S. State Department report reveals that the Cambodian government did not provide evidence of improvements in its anti-trafficking efforts compared to previous years, “even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity.”
“Endemic corruption and lack of political will continued to severely limit progress in holding traffickers accountable; corruption continued to impede law enforcement operations, criminal proceedings, and victim service provision,” the report reads.
“Amid insufficient government oversight and accountability measures, authorities did not investigate the large majority of credible reports of official complicity, in particular with unscrupulous business owners who subjected thousands of men, women, and children throughout the country to human trafficking in entertainment establishments and brick kilns,” it adds.
The report highlights debt-based coercion among 10,000 Cambodians, including nearly 4,000 children, working in brick kilns, with similar indebtedness leading to migration and exploitative work conditions overseas.
Traffickers were continuing to recruit men and boys to work on fishing vessels, the report said, whereas Cambodian and ethnic Vietnamese women and girls remain susceptible to sex trafficking in urban parts of the country.
Interior Ministry Secretary of State Chou Bun Eng, who also serves on the National Committee to Combat Trafficking, was surprised Cambodia is ranked at “Tier 2” on the watch list despite the government’s efforts to curb trafficking, COVID-19 pandemic, and severe flooding events in the last year.
“Our anti-trafficking efforts have never backed down and the United States knows best since they deployed an independent reviewer to work alongside us and collected data while Ambassador W. Patrick Murphy himself has consulted with us on multiple occasions,” Chou Bun Eng said.
“Why we remain on “Tier 2 Watch List”? I cannot give you an answer because it is related to the evaluators and these evaluations are subjective,” she added.
Moeun Tola, executive director of the labor rights group Central, said the U.S. was giving Cambodia some leeway before downgrading it on the watch list, and only on account of an on-paper plan to tackle trafficking.
The labor rights activists said the human trafficking situation showed no signs of improvement during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic-triggered lockdowns and travel restrictions pose challenges for civil society activists to travel and rescue victims, but gives perpetrators and their accomplices a moment of tackless horse riding.”