The United States launched a new program to support the Cambodian government in efforts combatting human trafficking, though Cambodia has for three years been on its Tier 2 watchlist in trafficking in person report, with the government failing to meet the “minimum standard” for the elimination of human trafficking due in part to “endemic corruption.”
The U.S embassy in Phnom Penh on Thursday launched a new, five-year USAID-funded Cambodia Counter Trafficking in Persons (CTIP) program, overseen by Winrock International — which ran the previous CTIP project. The project, which runs until 2026, aims to address the root causes of human trafficking, protect vulnerable populations from trafficking, and assist the Cambodian government to combat trafficking and support victims more effectively.
At a launch event held virtually, U.S. Ambassador W. Patrick Murphy said that combating trafficking involves much more than police work, and said the U.S. is working with NGOs and the government across many sectors.
Human trafficking is a global threat that deprives too many people of their dignity and freedom,” said Ambassador Murphy. He wrote in a statement that trafficking: “undermines national security, distorts markets, and enriches transnational criminals and terrorists and is an affront to our universal values.”
“Today’s launch represents our commitment to help protect Cambodians from this scourge,” he said.
Murphy noted that the U.S. has spent decades helping build legal frameworks, providing technical assistance, supporting repatriation and reintegration, training law enforcement, and providing viable employment alternatives.
“The trafficking challenges are everywhere, and… during the pandemic we are seeing the pressure increased, and we are committed to helping Cambodia fight against human trafficking,” he said.
The Interior Ministry’s National Committee Counter Trafficking reported that that authorities recorded 198 cases in the first six months of 2021 compared with 63 cases during the same period of time last year. Of 139 cases involved human trafficking, including unlawful transport cross-border Thailand, and 59 cases of sexual trafficking. In total, authorities arrested 231 people.
Chou Bun Eng, permanent vice-chair of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking, who attended the event, said that the Covid-19, has added another layer of challenges for Cambodia’s effort against trafficking in person.
The economic impact has given more opportunity for brokers and criminals to lure vulnerable people with false employment promises, she noted.
“This crisis brings more people, including children into online activity as school is closed and physical society activity limited,” Bun Eng said. “This also open another window of opportunity for criminals to commit trafficking in persons crime as they can reach more children by several online social media platforms and existence.”
She said that the government of Cambodia, through NCCT, will continue to work closely with the CTIP program by focusing on multiple fronts such as “prevention, protection, prosecution.”
“No matter how many layers of challenges we are facing, we never stop. We commit ourselves to collaborate with all relevant partners, countries,” she said.
Am Sam Ath, deputy director at rights group Licadho, called on the government to enhance education and enforcement as human trafficking remains a systemic issue.
“The government has to implement the law for [criminals] even if they are high ranking officials who have been involved in trafficking,” Sam Ath said.