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Cablegate: Staffdel Lerner Visits Cambodia

DE RUEHPF #0628/01 2380811
P 260811Z AUG 09




E.O. 12958: N/A



1. (SBU) SUMMARY: A Senate staff delegation (STAFFDEL)
visited Cambodia from August 15-19 to discuss trafficking in
persons, human rights, and refugee issues. The STAFFDEL met
with government officials at both the provincial and national
levels, opposition politicians, and a variety of
non-governmental organizations. The STAFFDEL noted how
foreign donor interest in HIV/AIDS and TIP has yielded a
patchwork quality of government that is quite progressive in
its response to some issues, but deeply lacking in others.
Moreover, they agreed it was still early for this
post-conflict society to address effectively some of these
difficult issues. END SUMMARY.

DPM Sar Kheng: Cooperation Key to Anti-TIP Efforts
--------------------------------------------- -----

2. (SBU) STAFFDEL Lerner, comprised of Robin Lerner, Counsel
to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee ; Janice Kaguyutan,
Counsel to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
Committee; and Ann Norris, staff to Senator Barbara Boxer had
a varied schedule of meetings in Cambodia August 15-19,
primarily focused on TIP. In their highest level meeting,
the STAFFDEL, accompanied by the Deputy Chief of Mission
(DCM), met on August 18 with Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) and
Minister of Interior Sar Kheng. The DPM, head of the Royal
Government of Cambodia's (RGC) anti-TIP efforts, described
the interagency structure the RGC is putting in place to
improve cooperation and communication between ministries, and
between the RGC and NGOs, to combat human trafficking. He
stated that this improved National Commission to counter
trafficking will be formalized with a Sub-Decree signed by
the Prime Minister this fall. Following the adoption of the
Sub-Decree, the National Commission will examine and put a
five-year anti-trafficking plan in place (covering

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3. (SBU) The DPM noted that he had reviewed convictions in
TIP cases with the Minister of Justice, and indicated his
intention to continue joint reviews of arrests and
convictions, and to establish clear standards for
investigating and pursuing TIP cases. In addition, the DPM
has proposed that a police officer be present at every
TIP-related trial, to provide additional testimony as needed,
and to protect cases for successful prosecution.

4. (SBU) The DPM acknowledged that defining TIP can be
difficult, especially when relating it to cases of interest
to the USG. Ultimately, he said, the RGC defines TIP
perpetrators as those who persuade people to travel to a new
place with the promise of a good job, and then place them in
a brothel or other exploitative situation. (COMMENT: This
definition demonstrates that the DPM has a clear
understanding of the issue, as defined in U.S. law, though
lower-level officials in the RGC often struggle to understand
the problem. END COMMENT.) The DPM lamented that many
victims claim they participate in exploitative activities
voluntarily, making intervention difficult. He stated that
the problem cannot be solved quickly, but that he believed it
was slowly getting better.

5. (SBU) When asked about the main challenges facing
anti-TIP efforts, the DPM said that the RGC needs greater
efforts to spread information about the TIP problem to the
general public, especially in the provinces. He thanked
USAID and The Asia Foundation for their assistance in these
efforts, but recognized that the RGC must still do more with
the limited resources available to it. He also expressed a
need for more standardized police training, such as a
national seminar, to broaden knowledge and experience with
TIP cases to all members of the police forces. He expressed
appreciation for U.S. cooperation toward this goal.

Victim Protection Challenges Remain

6. (SBU) The STAFFDEL also met with working-level contacts
on TIP at the Ministry of Social Affairs (MOSAVY), Ministry
of Interior (MOI) and Ministry of Justice (MOJ). All
meetings raised the issue of victim protections, and the need
to improve protection standards to support more prosecutions.
MOI officials emphasized a need for the RGC to provide
incentives to encourage victims to identify themselves and
testify against their abusers. At MOJ, contacts said witness
reluctance to testify against perpetrators remained a
challenge, but that because victim testimony in court is
required under Cambodia's legal system, encouraging victim

PHNOM PENH 00000628 002 OF 003

testimony was a key priority.

7. (SBU) As evidence of the need for the RGC to improve and
standardize victim protections, one MOJ contact described a
call she received from a victim protection NGO requesting
help because a victim's parents were suing the shelter for
illegal detention of their daughter. Victims located by
police and social workers are referred to shelters through an
order signed by the MOSAVY, but there is no guardian ad litem
law in Cambodia that transfers legal guardianship of children
to the State. In this case, a female minor was referred to a
shelter for care, but her mother, who is believed to have
sold the victim initially, has sued individual shelter
workers for refusing to return her daughter to her. The NGO
workers could countersue for personal defamation, or file a
civil complaint on behalf of the victim alleging human
trafficking, but the groups involved say they are highly
reluctant to do so because they don't want the public
spotlight attendant with a countersuit. The shelter director
believes the suit is without merit, since they have the
referral form signed by MOSAVY, and has asked the MOJ for
assistance in getting the case dismissed.

NGO Meetings Describe Anti-Trafficking Programs
--------------------------------------------- --

8. (SBU) The STAFFDEL also met with a number of NGOs while in
Phnom Penh, including International Justice Mission (IJM),
LICADHO, The Asia Foundation (TAF), International
Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN Inter-Agency Project
on Human Trafficking (UNIAP), and World Hope International.
Of particular note was the conversation with IOM and UNIAP
that focused on labor-trafficking issues and the effects of
the economic downturn on the commercial entertainment
industry that is often a front for prostitution and a gateway
to trafficking. UNIAP discussed the outcome of its survey of
women currently working in entertainment venues such as bars,
karaoke parlors, and massage parlors. UNIAP's Lim Tith said
the study found that approximately 10% of the women surveyed
self-reported that they believed they had been trafficked
into the industry. The study found an increase in the number
of women entering entertainment work in the last nine months,
but no increase in reported use of deception, cheating, or
brokering that is typically involved with trafficking.

Opposition Discusses Human Rights and Women's Issues
--------------------------------------------- -------

9. (SBU) The DCM hosted a reception for the STAFFDEL and a
select group of politicians representing opposition political
parties. Approximately 15 guests attended from the Sam
Rainsy Party (SRP) and Human Rights Party (HRP), including
Party Presidents Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha. The STAFFDEL
spoke in-depth with the politicians about recent
constrictions on free speech and assembly. Tioulong Saumura,
the MP from Phnom Penh and Sam Rainsy's wife, discussed the
unequal treatment of women in Cambodia and the need to
provide better opportunities for education to women and girls
in Cambodia. Referring to the recent defamation case against
MP Mu Sochua (septels), Tioulong expressed support for Mu's
case against the PM, opined that many Cambodian women were
offended by the Prime Minister's April 4 speech, and believed
that many would think differently about supporting the PM in
the future.

Trip to Siem Reap Highlights NGO Activity

10. (SBU) The STAFFDEL also spent two days in Siem Reap
visiting NGOs and provincial government officials. A stop at
the rehabilitation shelter run by Somaly Mam's AFESIP
organization provided an overview of the problems facing
trafficking victims. Of the more than 60 girls resident at
the shelter, more than half had lived there for over a year.
While the shelter provides vocational training in sewing,
hairdressing, and other tasks, many of the girls struggle
with basic literacy and numeracy they would need to open
their own businesses. Some of the girls had recently
returned to Siem Reap after attending a program in Colorado
to work on English-language skills, and they led the tours
around the shelter. Mam told the STAFFDEL of her goal to
train a group of former victims as public speakers, who could
tell their stories and be representatives of trafficking
victims world-wide.

11. (SBU) The STAFFDEL also visited a USAID-funded
hospitality school for at-risk youth, which trains young
people to become restaurant cooks, servers, hotel
housekeepers, or front desk representatives. Students of the

PHNOM PENH 00000628 003 OF 003

school, Sala Bai, are often in high demand by industry
businesses, since the one-year training program ensures the
students have the necessary skills to do the work. Several
former students were on hand during the school holiday break
to describe how the opportunity to train for a hospitality
job meant increased employment options, higher starting
salaries, and more rapid advancement in their careers.

12. (SBU) The STAFFDEL met with representatives of four
provincial government departments who are members of the Siem
Reap Provincial Command Unit (PCU), along with three
permanent staff of the PCU Secretariat. Where the National
Task Force brings together high-level representatives from
all national ministries with a role in anti-trafficking
policy, the PCU does the same at a provincial level. All
provinces in Cambodia have been asked to establish such a
unit, and two - in Siem Reap and Svay Rieng - have received
additional training and assistance through a USAID pilot
program to improve the functioning of the group. As in Phnom
Penh, the provincial officials stressed the importance of a
strong victim protection network and how better protections
might persuade frightened victims to identify themselves.


13. (SBU) This was the first visit to Cambodia for all three
staffers. The variety of meetings during their trip made it
clear that in this post-conflict society, "it's still early
days," in terms of being able to address TIP. The STAFFDEL
noted how foreign donor interest in HIV/AIDS and TIP has
yielded a patchwork quality of government that is quite
progressive in its response to some issues, but deeply
lacking in others. They cited as an example the existence of
the 2008 anti-TIP law, but the lack of a current Penal Code
that defines crimes. The staffers each noted that "you
really have to come here to understand; it's so much easier
to judge the deficiencies when you haven't been here to
understand what's missing."

14. (SBU) For their part, the Cambodian interlocutors
welcomed the STAFFDEL, using the opportunity to emphasize and
highlight the work being done to combat TIP. Government
contacts were relatively forthcoming with the visitors, with
one MOI contact noting that they "know the anti-TIP law is
not perfect," but they are working on implementation and hope
to improve it as a tool over time. The STAFFDEL seemed quite
pleased with the apparent good cooperation and the work being
done by many USG agencies in Cambodia. The trip was
successful in promoting a realistic picture of the successes
and challenges of Cambodia's anti-trafficking efforts; we
hope in turn that it helps inform a realistic view in
Washington as well. END COMMENT

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