The government maintained law enforcement efforts. 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. NGOs reported that, in practice, the government did not issue criminal penalties under the anti-trafficking law for labor traffickers; instead, it utilized the labor law to issue fines and/or short jail sentences of six days to one month, which did not represent sufficient punishment to deter future crimes or provide justice for victims.
The government did not maintain a centralized record or database of investigations and judicial proceedings, therefore overall law enforcement data was incomplete, precluding the ability to compare investigations, prosecutions, and convictions from previous years. Unlike in the previous reporting period, the police did not report comprehensive data on anti-trafficking investigations conducted in 2021. According to some media reports, authorities arrested 370 suspected traffickers, which included 332 labor brokers, but the government did not report an update on these arrests. In 2021, Ministry of Justice (MOJ) personnel manually collected prosecution and conviction data from each district court throughout the country. Nevertheless, as in the prior reporting period, judicial authorities may have included cases of rape and other crimes outside the standard definition of trafficking in their reported data; therefore, the true number of trafficking prosecutions and convictions was likely lower than reported. In 2021, the government prosecuted 109 suspected traffickers involved in 64 cases under the anti-trafficking law; four of these cases involved sex trafficking, 37 involved forced labor, and 23 involved unspecified forms of exploitation. The government convicted 38 traffickers, including one for sex trafficking and 35 for forced labor. Of these cases, in April 2021, authorities arrested and convicted a two-star military general and six other traffickers for exploiting 28 nationals from the People’s Republic of China (PRC); the court sentenced the military general to four years’ imprisonment. In comparison to this data, in 2020 the police reported authorities arrested 94 suspects—48 suspects involved in 37 cases of “non-sexual human trafficking” and 46 suspects involved in 21 cases of sex trafficking. The government prosecuted 348 cases of trafficking in 2020, but the government did not disclose the number of individuals prosecuted; it also convicted 440 traffickers. However, some of the cases reported in 2020 likely did not meet the definition of human trafficking under international law and also accounted for cases from prior years.
The pandemic continued to hinder government efforts to prosecute perpetrators and heighten awareness of trafficking among officials. Cambodian courts shut down between April and May 2021, temporarily halting judicial activity including anti-trafficking investigations, and then resumed operations at a reduced capacity for several months afterwards. The government reported it cooperated with the governments of the United States, Thailand, and the PRC on human trafficking investigations; it also maintained memoranda of understanding (MOUs) outlining cross- border anti-trafficking investigations with Thailand and Vietnam, as well as an extradition treaty with the former. The government continued to cooperate with the United States through a law enforcement task force dedicated to combating online child sexual exploitation and other child sex crimes. In 2021, the police arrested four individuals for online child sexual exploitation under the anti-trafficking law after U.S. law enforcement referred nine potential cases.
Nationwide, law enforcement authorities often did not take appropriate action against suspected or convicted traffickers. Judicial police lacked the resources to monitor defendants released on “judicial supervision” pending trial, allowing some to flee prior to their trial dates, which only left courts the option to convict offenders in absentia. 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. 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. NGOs reported law enforcement did not adequately respond to reports of trafficking allegations in remote or less developed areas of the country due to capacity limitations.
Endemic corruption at many levels of government continued to severely limit the ability of individual officials to make progress in holding traffickers accountable. In some cases, local or provincial authorities neglected cases of complicity, so national authorities intervened to investigate and prosecute such cases. During the reporting period, NGOs reported trafficking victims accused Cambodian officials of colluding with labor brokers to commit human trafficking crimes. NGOs alleged police and other officials were complicit in online scam operations that forced hundreds of PRC, Southeast Asian, and other foreign nationals to work in call centers in Sihanoukville and other locations. Observers 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 consistent credible allegations of complicity in human trafficking crimes, the government did not prosecute or convict the large majority of complicit government employees. Law enforcement raids on sex trafficking establishments were sometimes unsuccessful due to advance warning from working-level police. Some police reportedly protected sex trafficking establishments in exchange for monthly payments from the business owners or sexual favors from the victims. Authorities often overlooked, denied, or downplayed labor abuses—including forced child labor—in factories and at brick kilns and colluded with brick manufacturers to arrest, jail, and return indentured laborers who had attempted to escape.
The government—in collaboration with and funding from NGOs and other donors—provided training to police, prosecutors, judges, and other government officials. These trainings included 256 sessions and workshops on anti-trafficking laws, investigative techniques, and evidence collection for 12,814 law enforcement officers and seven trainings for 286 participants on victim identification and protection guidelines. Despite these trainings, many police—particularly in rural areas—remained unaware of how to conduct anti-trafficking work, as most did not receive training on basic law enforcement techniques. Moreover, law enforcement and judicial officials lacked the necessary equipment to handle trafficking cases appropriately, including vehicles, computer and communications equipment, and forensic tools. Additionally, 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. Local organizations and some officials continued to stress an urgent need for more sophisticated evidence collection techniques—including more undercover investigations—to decrease reliance on witness testimony and improve efforts to detect and combat sex trafficking. MOJ officials reported their concern that revising the law or issuing new regulations to specifically authorize undercover investigation authority in trafficking cases could lead to abuse of power by the police.