Minister of Interior Sar Kheng said he was surprised to see that the US Department of State had downgraded Cambodia’s human trafficking ranking even though the Kingdom had shown a willingness to address the issue by implementing policies and practical mechanisms to stop those types of crimes.
Last week, the US State Department downgraded Cambodia’s human trafficking ranking from its position on the Tier 2 Watch List (2WL) to Tier 3 in their “Trafficking in Persons [TIP] Report for July 2022”.
“The government of Cambodia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so, even considering the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Cambodia was downgraded to Tier 3,” the report said.
Speaking at the opening of a new primary school campus in Damank Ampil commune’s Thnal Totoeng village of Kandal province’s Ang Snuol district on July 23, Sar Kheng – who is also head of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking (NCCT) – said he was “shocked” by the US government’s decision.
He said Cambodia has been fighting unrelentingly against human trafficking and that the Kingdom has laws, policies and mechanisms in place to deal with the issue.
He said that perhaps this poor evaluation was due to negative misperceptions about Cambodia not taking this work seriously somehow, but in reality Cambodia has shown a very strong willingness to tackle this problem and the Kingdom has been calling for honest cooperation in this area from all of its partners.
The US has long supported Cambodia in fighting against these sorts of crimes but, Sar Kheng said, their lengthy history of successful cooperation had not been reflected in the contents of the report.
“Put simply, we can say that [the US] teamed up with us on this problem to help us achieve victory. So, if we are defeated, then [the US] is also defeated. When the team loses, all of the players lose, not just one or another of the players – all of them. We win or lose together.
“You say you came to help Cambodia get better at stopping human trafficking, so now if we’re still not good at it – if our efforts are still bad – then so are [the efforts of the US]. If we’re bad, that just means you’re bad, too,” Sar Kheng said, adding that there were countries that he was certain had not done a better job or even made better efforts than Cambodia that received better scores in the report.
The interior minister said that no matter what ranking the US hands out to Cambodia, the Kingdom will not back down in the fight against human trafficking. Instead, the government will look at its weaknesses and continue to work with the US side to address the issue.
Chou Bun Eng, ministry secretary of state and vice-chair of the NCCT, told reporters last week that the downgrading of ranking for Cambodia on efforts to combat human trafficking was “unjust”.
“We are sad to see that they made an evaluation that did not meet our expectations, because the government and our national and international partners all know very clearly about our joint efforts to combat human trafficking and many achievements we have had in recent years,” she said, adding that even if this ranking was accurate, the failures that led to it were also indisputably the joint responsibility of both Cambodia and the US.
“Putting us at Tier 3 is like judging that our efforts were equal to not having done anything at all to work on this problem and that is not true. This ranking could lead to sanctions or restrictions of some kind and that is really unjust and unacceptable,” she added.
Am Sam Ath, deputy director of rights group LICADHO, said Cambodia had the right to react to the report and defend itself. On behalf of civil society organisations, he said he regretted that Cambodia had slipped from Tier 2 to Tier 3, because the downgrading of the ranking, whether justified or not, affects the reputation of Cambodia regarding human trafficking.
While saying he largely agrees with Sar Kheng’s comments about cooperation with the US and the shared responsibility they should acknowledge for the situation, Sam Ath urged Cambodia to try to do more in combating these crimes through cooperation with regional and international partners. He said that as technology continues to advance, the flow of foreigners into Cambodia could increase drastically and that could also lead to more human trafficking done by organised groups.