The government maintained insufficient law enforcement efforts. Endemic corruption continued to severely limit progress in holding traffickers accountable. Authorities continued to waste investigative and prosecutorial resources in pursuit of spurious law enforcement action against non-traffickers, including social media users, women participating in surrogacy programs, and individuals attempting to document trafficking in the country. The 2008 Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of seven to 15 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving an adult victim and 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The Anti-Human Trafficking Juvenile Police (AHTJP) attempted to monitor and record information on the cases it investigated, but the government did not collect comprehensive data on overall law enforcement efforts, particularly among provincial courts. Where data were available, some government bodies were reportedly reluctant to share internally with other key interagency stakeholders.
Law enforcement bodies reportedly increased the number of investigations funded through internal police budgets. However, the government required the funding of all anti-trafficking investigative work to be conducted through reimbursement, forcing individual police units to personally cover relevant expenses. NGO contacts reported some officers waited months for this reimbursement, which was sometimes not repaid in full, and that the ensuing financial hardships made some police units more susceptible to corruption. Authorities included cases of surrogacy, rape, and other crimes outside the standard definition of trafficking in their reported law enforcement data; the true number of trafficking arrests, investigations, prosecutions, or convictions was therefore likely much lower than reported. According to government data, authorities arrested 26 Cambodian and foreign nationals in connection with 21 cases of “non-sexual human trafficking” (150 in connection with 39 cases in 2018) and 14 cases of sex trafficking involving 27 suspects (39 cases involving 21 suspects in 2018). Investigative judges reportedly processed 207 cases involving an unknown number of suspects, sending 63 to trial and continuing work on the remaining 144 at the end of the reporting period. Authorities reported prosecutors handled 199 cases, of which they referred 134 for formal investigation, and continued processing the remaining 65 at the end of the reporting period (421 total cases in 2018). As with prosecutions, conviction statistics were limited due to insufficient data collection methods. The National Committee for Counter Trafficking (NCCT) reported the Phnom Penh Municipal Court processed 166 cases, of which it closed 63 with the conviction of 140 individuals (125 in 2018); 103 cases were in process at the end of the reporting period. The government again did not provide data on sentencing, but courts reportedly continued to convict suspects on lesser charges and conclude sex trafficking cases with monetary settlements in lieu of prison sentences. Victims whose families received out-of-court settlements from traffickers often withdrew from trials or changed their testimonies, further complicating prosecutions.
In conjunction with an NGO, Preah Sihanouk anti-trafficking police trained more than 1,100 lay monitors in the taxi, tourism, hospitality, and retail industries to detect and report incidents of trafficking; however, authorities did not report identifying or initiating investigations into trafficking cases as a result of this effort. Nationwide, law enforcement authorities often did not take appropriate action against suspected or convicted traffickers. Judicial police lacked the resources to monitor the increasing number of defendants released on “judicial supervision” pending trial, allowing many to flee prior to their trial dates. Authorities rarely issued arrest warrants for absconded defendants unless NGOs were available to assist in tracking and apprehending them. Further compounding this challenge, Cambodian criminal procedural code featured no guidelines, monitoring provisions, or language outlining specific law enforcement duties with regard to judicial supervision. Citing resource constraints, prosecutors and investigating judges did not advance all of the trafficking cases for which police had supplied evidence. Authorities abused law enforcement resources to detain, prosecute, and convict some individuals on politically motivated or otherwise spurious trafficking charges, further bringing into question the veracity of the anti-trafficking data—and the resource constraints—reported by the government. Two journalists from an international media outlet remained under judicial supervision awaiting trial for spurious trafficking charges at the end of the reporting period. A former National Assembly candidate and a former Secretary of State at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation (MOSAVY) were sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to pay $50,000 for violating Cambodia’s trafficking law in a case that many NGOs believed to be politically motivated. Authorities also filed spurious criminal charges against civilians for non-trafficking offenses. During the reporting period, the government charged 11 women under trafficking legislation for their participation in an illegal paid surrogacy program. In December 2018, authorities extradited a Cambodian national from Thailand and charged him with “incitement” for having assisted a foreign media outlet in producing a documentary about child sex trafficking victims in Cambodia. In June 2019, the Phnom Penh Court of First Instance convicted him to two years in prison and ordered him to pay $17,200 in compensation to the parents of two children featured in the film, despite the fact that he did not harm them or violate any privacy laws. In February 2020, authorities also charged a woman under the 2008 Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation for posting an image of herself they deemed to be sexually suggestive on a social media platform. Local experts continued to report that cases involving foreign suspects were more likely to result in trafficking convictions than cases involving Cambodian suspects, for whom charges were often reduced to less serious offenses.
The government maintained memorandums of understanding (MOUs) outlining cross-border anti-trafficking investigation with Thailand and Vietnam, as well as an extradition treaty with the former, but did not report investigating or extraditing any suspected traffickers under their auspices in 2019. Authorities continued to deliver donor-designed and -funded training on the implementation of anti-trafficking laws to police, prosecutors, judges, and other government officials. During the reporting period, the NCCT delivered 113 trainings to 3,712 law enforcement officers on anti-trafficking laws, investigative techniques, and evidence collection (234 trainings to 6,321 officers in 2018); for the third year, it did not report how many commune and provincial officials, judicial staff, and NGO workers participated in these sessions (7,689 in 2016). Despite these training sessions, many police—particularly in rural areas—were unaware of how to conduct anti-trafficking work, as most did not receive training on basic law enforcement techniques. Local organizations and some officials continued to stress an urgent need for more sophisticated evidence collection techniques, including undercover investigations, to decrease reliance on witness testimony and improve efforts to detect and combat sex trafficking. The government approved undercover investigative authority for investigations into cases involving narcotics and corruption allegations. However, it did not grant undercover investigative authority to anti-trafficking police units, except in rare cases when requested for child sex tourism raids conducted alongside foreign law enforcement agencies. This lack of authority continued to significantly constrain law enforcement officers’ ability to address the increasingly clandestine nature of sex trafficking operations in Cambodia; as a result, police investigations were limited to more clear manifestations of the crime, including sex-on-premises establishments and cases in which victims were willing to self-report and testify.
Endemic corruption at many levels of government severely limited the ability of individual officials to make progress in holding traffickers accountable. The Cambodian national police maintained a mechanism for NGO workers to report incidents of corruption among anti-trafficking police, but it did not field any complaints during the reporting period. Local officials facilitated cross-border trafficking by accepting bribes for forging identity documents. One NGO noted law enforcement raids on sex trafficking establishments were sometimes unsuccessful due to advance warning from working-level police. However, some provincial police chiefs continued to minimize these leaks by turning over cases to the AHTJP, which conducted independent raids without notifying the local authorities until moments before they began. Some corrupt officials may have profited directly from establishments suspected of sex and labor trafficking. Authorities often overlooked labor abuses—including child forced labor—in factories and at brick kilns, and in several instances colluded with brick manufacturers to arrest, jail, and return indentured laborers who had attempted to escape. Contacts alleged prosecutors and judges accepted bribes in return for dismissal of charges, acquittals, and reduced sentencing. Corrupt officials often thwarted progress in cases where the perpetrators were believed to have political, criminal, or economic ties to government officials. Despite these trends, the government did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any government employees complicit in trafficking.