A woman prays before a monk in a Phnom Penh street. Rights groups say the economic crunch caused by Covid-19 has forced many Cambodians to chance their luck with human traffickers. (Photo: Luke Hunt/UCA News)

By UCA News reporter, Phnom Penh

July 29 2022

Church official says anti-China politics dictated Tier 3 downgrade in US Trafficking in Persons report.

A Church official in Cambodia says anti-China politics weighed high in a recent US report on human trafficking that accused the government of not doing enough to eliminate the scourge.

Savong Duong, a member of the Interfaith Commission representing the Catholic community in Cambodia, said the US report released last week was more likely to be politically biased and that its verification process was unknown.

“The United States has a policy of oppressing the Kingdom of Cambodia. It is thinking that Cambodia is connected to China. Their policy is anti-China,” he told UCA News.

The US government’s 2022 Trafficking in Persons report downgraded Cambodia to Tier 3 status, listing it among countries with the worst record of human trafficking. It also accused the administration of corruption and an unwillingness to bring human traffickers before the law.

Cambodia is among 21 countries including China and Russia on the Tier 3 list. They are accused of not fully meeting the international minimum standards and not making significant efforts to do so.

“The report is more of a political issue than about what the Kingdom of Cambodia had done”

Other Asian nations on the worst performing list are Afghanistan, Brunei, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar, North Korea and Vietnam.

Last year Cambodia was on the Tier 2 Watchlist that includes countries that do not meet international standards but are “making significant efforts” to meet them, according to the report.

Savong said the Cambodian government has made giant steps and is working with Church groups to create awareness among people to fight trafficking.

“The Cambodian government has urged religions in the country to unite against trafficking. We have had several interfaith meetings with the government on human trafficking,” he said, adding that the Interior Ministry “has done a lot of work” with the countries involved.

“In my opinion, the report is more of a political issue than about what the Kingdom of Cambodia had done,” to check trafficking, he added.

A diplomatic tussle continues between the US and China, which Washington projects as one that stems from ideological issues with China’s communist regime which is accused of suppressing democratic freedoms and human rights.

“When the report came out, we were ranked at the lowest level. It means we did nothing”

Observers, however, say Washington is also trying to curb China’s financial, technological and diplomatic clout after emerging as the second superpower after the US.

Countries such as Cambodia are seen among nations toeing Beijing’s line, and the US is accused of using diplomatic tools to keep them in check.

Bun Eng Chou, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Interior and a top official in the state body countering trafficking, told media on July 21 that the government was hoping to improve its ranking this year.

“We expected to get a good ranking. We have had the cooperation of the US embassy and worked closely with it. Even the FBI office collaborated with the General Commissariat of the National Police. We also had their reporters work with us,” she said.

“Everyone involved said it was very positive. But on the contrary, when the report came out, we were ranked at the lowest level. It means we did nothing,” she said.

Monsarith Nou, assistant director of Caritas Cambodia, said the Church charity organization “worked hard with other religious institutions to fight human trafficking.”

“We are teaching people to understand what human trafficking is”

He said Caritas Cambodia has made great efforts to spread awareness about this in the community and in the region, especially on its projects in each province.

“We are starting to fight, especially we are teaching people to understand what human trafficking is,” Monsarith said.

They are teaching targeted villagers and farmers to know how to differentiate between safe migration and unsafe migration that leads to trafficking.

He said some people whom they trained have migrated.

“They migrated safely, although their number is small. They flew to China, Thailand and Malaysia,” he said.

UCA News