Notes from the Field

The Next Step in the Fight Against Human Trafficking in Cambodia

September 30, 2009

On Monday, September 28, Cambodia’s Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation (MoSVY) launched ground-breaking policy concerning protection of trafficking victims. The landmark Policy and Minimum Standard for the Protection of the Rights of Victims of Human Trafficking was unveiled at an event presided over by H.E. Ith Sam Heng, Minister of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation. More than 200 people attended, including Secretaries of State from the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Justice, officials from embassies, the media, and a mixture of government, international NGO, and local NGO representatives.

The new policy and the minimum standards will result in a continuity of care for victims who often engage with multiple service providers, from shelters to counselors and legal prosecution.

This standardized higher quality of care through the rescue, rehabilitation, and reintegration process will create a safer and more dignified experience for people who have been controlled by threats, lies, and physical force, and who have endured slave-like conditions.

The ministry’s development of the new policy, which was supported by The Asia Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) under the Counter-Trafficking in Persons (C-TIP) project, began with initial consultations with 100 victims of human trafficking and over 200 service providers. A rigorous drafting and redrafting process involved broad input from civil society partners and inter-ministerial government personnel. Trainings were run with local NGOs to familiarize them with the new policy so they could pilot the minimum standards for three months. During this time, The Asia Foundation and MoSVY staff visited the pilot shelters to gather feedback on the applicability of the documents. Based on this input, the policies and minimum standards were further refined. A technical working group was set up within the Ministry, made up of senior officials from the Ministry and the Foundation’s technical team. The team worked together to finalize the Policy and the Minimum Standards documents which were approved by the Minister in late September before this week’s release.

On the day the new policy was launched, excitement was palpable among the anti-trafficking stakeholders in Cambodia. One anxious participant, Ms. Somaly, who works for an NGO shelter on the border of Cambodia and Thailand that was involved in the pilot development phase, told me she was thrilled to be invited and see her organization’s feedback incorporated into the new policy. She had arrived hours before the event because she wanted to be sure she was there on time.

The staff from MoSVY arrived early, clearly eager to present the results of their hard work and underscore the Royal Government of Cambodia’s commitment to combating human trafficking, protecting the rights of victims, and upholding their international obligations.

Cambodia is a signatory to the ASEAN agreement Against Trafficking in Persons Particularly Women and Children, and as part of the COMMIT process (Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative Against Trafficking), Cambodia had agreed to develop country-specific victim protection measures. At the policy launch, Ms. Ing Vannrithy, coordinator of the anti-trafficking and reintegration office at MoSVY, addressed the challenges of past efforts due to inconsistent policies and procedures. “Through the new minimum standards, we can now begin to walk on the same path,” she said.

His Excellency Prak Chanthouen, senior official at the Ministry of Social Affairs and the leader of the technical working group, discussed the need to respect individual beliefs and value systems, but also how service providers have a duty to uphold the law, even if it is in contradiction with their personal beliefs.

Feedback on the launch was excellent. A long-term international NGO director told me that she was very pleased by the extensive local participation. Based on the presentations and engagement by those in the room, her opinion was that true ownership by the Cambodian government was apparent.

Gavin Tritt, The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative in Cambodia, applauded the consultative approach used to design the polic, the collaboration of service providers, and input received from trafficking survivors. He commended MoSVY on their dedication to this project and observed that the true test “lies in how effectively we all use the new policy and uphold the new National Minimum Standards.”

My colleague, Sok Phay, Assistant Program Officer for The Asia Foundation, and I felt a sense of achievement and relief to see how well it was received by the gathered practitioners and agencies. As part of The Asia Foundation’s Counter-Trafficking in Person technical team, we are elated at the expression of support by the government of Cambodia for our collective work and our role in supporting the training, piloting, and policy refinements.

As the event came to a close, His Excellency, Prak Chanthouen approached us. “So when are we going to meet to discuss wider dissemination and training?” he asked. Phay and I looked at each other and I answered with a tentative, “Friday, I suppose?” And so it continues. The next chapter in the minimum standards and policy will be further training and implementation.

The Asia Foundation in Cambodia, with support from USAID, works with more than 200 ministries, international organizations, agencies, and local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) participate in consultations with the National Task Force on trafficking, making it a powerful forum for coordination, information exchange, and action. By improving coordination among anti-trafficking actors, enhancing victim care through the development and implementation of national standards, and improving access to justice, The Asia Foundation’s C-TIP program addresses the humanitarian as well as the development needs of trafficked persons. Read more.

Louise Rose is The Asia Foundation’s Program Officer for the Counter-Trafficking in Persons project (C-TIP) in Cambodia. She can be reached at lrose@asiafound.org.

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