Cablegate: Three Cambodians Convicted for Labor Trafficking;
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0135/01 0540014
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 230014Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1706
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PHNOM PENH 000135
STATE FOR EAP/MLS, EAP/RSP, G/TIP, DRL
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL KTIP KJUS SOCI CB
SUBJECT: THREE CAMBODIANS CONVICTED FOR LABOR TRAFFICKING;
PRIMARY OFFENDER GETS 20 YEARS
PHNOM PENH 00000135 001.6 OF 002
SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has
convicted three Cambodians on human trafficking and assault
charges stemming from the purchase and forced labor of an
11-year old girl in their custody. The primary offender in
was sentenced to 20 years in prison for receiving and
systematically abusing the child while forcing her to labor
as a domestic servant. The case had an extremely high
profile, as one of the first prosecutions for labor
trafficking in Cambodia, and due to the degree of abuse
documented and the age of the child. The verdict showcases
the improving capacity of the court to evaluate the
circumstances of a complex case and use the 2008 TIP Law to
obtain significant punishment. Moreover, the widespread
publicity coupled with the sophisticated protection
mechanisms employed in this case could serve equally as a
deterrent to employers and as a training case for police and
other interventionists througout the country. END SUMMARY.
"A Very Cruel Case"
2. (SBU) On February 19, Phnom Penh Judge Chan Madina
convicted three Cambodian perpetrators for trafficking and
physically abusing an 11-year-old girl. The judge sentenced
Meas Nary, a high-school teacher considered to be the primary
offender, to 20 years in prison for receiving and forcing the
girl to labor as a domestic servant. The girl testified in a
January hearing that Meas whipped her with wire hangers,
pinched her with pliers, and applied numerous other
punishments over the course of a year inside the home.
Before issuing her verdict, the judge said "the acts of Meas
Nary were inhuman and very cruel" and that investigators
documented "over 15 points of torture" on the head and body
of the child.
3. (SBU) Meas denied the charges upon her arrest in October
2009, but could not disclaim away the scars on the child's
body. She eventually admitted to beating the girl, but told
the court in January, "I beat her because I wanted to educate
her on how to be a good daughter...I love her as my own
4. (SBU) Meas' husband, Va Savoeun, received a 10-year
prison sentence for his role in the case. The girl testified
in the January hearing that Va had never beaten her directly,
but knew it was happening and did nothing to stop it. A
third defendant, Thoeung Reth, received 5 years in prison for
selling the child to the Phnom Penh couple in 2008 for $400
USD. The judge also collectively ordered the three
defendants to pay the girl 20 million riel (approximately
$4,800 USD) in compensation.
" Secret Torture"
5. (SBU) Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection
Police raided the home of Meas Nary and Va Savoeun in October
2009, acting on a tip from neighbors that they had seen an
unfamiliar and visibly mistreated child outside and around
the couple's home. Police subsequently arrested Thoeung Reth
after the couple disclosed purchasing the child from her.
Thoeung Reth told police the child's mother gave the child to
Thoeung to raise, promising to pay $15 USD per month to help
with expenses. But the mother thereafter disappeared.
Thoeung reportedly raised the girl from approximately age 2
until age 10, when she claimed she "gave" the girl to Meas
and Va. Thoeung told the court she expected the girl would
receive an education because Meas was a high-school teacher
and Va was a retired official from the Ministry of Education.
6. (SBU) Instead of attending school, Meas Nary forced the
child to labor around the home, requiring her to scrub
floors, care for the garden, cut grass, clean the kitchen,
and more. The girl testified that Meas often beat her
because the cleaning jobs had not been adequately completed.
As punishment "my godmother beat me using pliers, clothes
hangers, a broom, and whips, every time she got angry.
Sometimes she tied me upside down to a ladder and beat me,"
then forced her to bathe in bleach following beatings.
Police said the child's body revealed "constant violence" and
was covered "from her head down in frightening scars and
wounds from her mistreatment."
7. (SBU) The International Labor Organization commented that
the case was a rare example of authorities rescuing a
PHNOM PENH 00000135 002.5 OF 002
domestic servant from an abusive situation at the hands of an
employer. An ILO program officer noted that in most cases,
it is hard for authorities to discover this "secret torture"
because the victims do not leave the houses.
"Everyone is Watching"
8. (SBU) The case received high-profile attention from the
moment the three were arrested in October 2009. Donors and
NGOs tracked the progress of the case through the courts, and
the media followed the case closely. Human rights and
counter-trafficking organizations alike praised the court's
ruling, saying the case put an spotlight on the issue of
internal trafficking within Cambodia. A monitor with the
Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association said "this
was a severe case that everyone is watching" and that the
sentences "fit the Cambodian government's attention to combat
9. (SBU) Authorities initially pursued TIP charges only
against Thoeung Reth for selling the child and planned to
charge the couple with physical abuse. But the public
hearing on January 26 revealed the change in the court's
attitude, when charges under Article 15 of the 2008 TIP Law
became public knowledge. The court's focus also had clearly
shifted to the purchase and treatment of the child while in
custody of the Phnom Penh couple, particularly the actions of
Meas Nary. Thus, while the media has widely reported that
the couple was convicted of "torturing" the child, in fact
they have been convicted of human trafficking, a charge
supported by the circumstances of forced servitude in the
Closing the Door
10. (SBU) The NGO HAGAR International has cared for the
child since her rescue, and reported that authorities quickly
turned the girl over to them for medical treatment and
recovery services. HAGAR's psycho-social services manager,
who accompanied the child to court, said she found the three
judges to be sensitive to the child, and that HAGAR staff
were allowed to comfort and support the child during her
testimony. The child, who has been attending school and
living first at a HAGAR facility, then with a volunteer
family with HAGAR support, can now "start the process of
rehabilitation," according to a HAGAR official. "The judge
believed her, which was very important for her."
11. (SBU) COMMENT: This case is one of the first rescues of
a domestic servant from a home in Cambodia, and one of the
first prosecutions for severe labor trafficking. The court
showed an improving capacity to evaluate the circumstances of
a complex case and use the 2008 TIP Law to obtain significant
punishment of Cambodian offenders. The child has also been
well-protected throughout the process; her identity has not
been disclosed by either authorities or organizations
involved in the case, and the media has protected her
somewhat from over-exposure, generally showing pictures only
of the back of her head. The case, which garnered wide
attention at many levels of society, could serve as a
deterrent to other employers, and as a training case for
police and other interventionists. END COMMENT.