Remarks by Ambassador William A. Heidt at the Annual Meeting of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking

February 25, 2016

Samdach Krohlah Haum Sar Kheng, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior; H.E. Dr. Hang Chuon Naron, Minister of Education, Youth, and Sport; H.E. Dr. Ing Kantha Phavi, Minister of Women’s Affairs; H.E. Chou Bun Eng, Permanent Vice-Chairperson of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking; distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted to be here this morning at the annual meeting of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking, or NCCT. Along with annual National Anti-Human Trafficking Day, this meeting is one of the most important events of the year in Cambodia’s efforts to combat human trafficking. It provides the government an opportunity to publicize its anti-trafficking plans and initiatives for the coming year, and gives Cambodia’s international partners the information they need to help. I am very impressed with the detailed reports we heard this morning and the very strong commitment by various government Ministries to the fight against trafficking.

We care about trafficking in persons because it affects not just individuals and their families, but also communities and entire countries. And we greatly appreciate the extraordinary work of the NCCT, which is chaired by Samdach Sar Kheng and led by Her Excellency Chou Bun Eng. We know from experience around the world that strong coordination among government, civil society, and the private sector is critical for ending human trafficking. The NCCT has provided the leadership and coordination needed to make real progress against human trafficking.

When I first lived in Phnom Penh in the late 1990s, sex trafficking was common in Cambodia, especially of minors. This was a very difficult social problem, and was very damaging to Cambodia’s international reputation. But with hard work by the government, police, and civil society, as well as assistance from its international partners, Cambodia turned this situation around.

In fact, a recent study by the International Justice Mission shows that the number of minors involved in commercial sex has fallen from 15 to 30 percent of all commercial sex workers fifteen years ago to slightly more than one percent today. That is real progress and something all Cambodians can be proud of.

Cambodia’s success in combatting child sex trafficking gives me confidence that it can make similar progress in reducing labor trafficking. According to the International Labor Organization, over a million Cambodians are now working overseas, mostly in Thailand. Many of them used illegal or unsafe means to migrate. In fact, the International Office of Migration found that that 85 percent of the Cambodian migrants who returned from Thailand in June 2014 used irregular channels to migrate.

When they seek work outside the country without information on safe and legal migration channels, Cambodian workers can be abused, exploited, or simply not paid. Many have risked their lives. And without good data on the flow of migrants, it has been extremely difficult for the government to target its law enforcement resources or deliver coordinated services to victims of trafficking.

That is why we believe Cambodia’s growing cooperation with its neighbors and particularly the new Victim Identification Guidelines are so important. The new guidelines will foster a common understanding of which migrants are victims of trafficking, will help the government and its partners understand the size of labor trafficking channels, and enable the government to refer victims of trafficking to the appropriate social services. They are an important achievement that demonstrates the Government’s commitment to protecting victims of human trafficking.

We hope the government will consider adding one more tool to Cambodia’s anti-trafficking toolbox as well—the ability for Cambodian police to use undercover investigative techniques when pursuing trafficking cases. Undercover investigations are very important law enforcement tools in the United States. The police have used undercover investigations when pursuing narcotics cases in Cambodia as well. But they have not yet been used in trafficking cases. We believe giving the police explicit undercover investigative authority in the human trafficking area would lead to more efficient investigations, more prosecutions, and in the end, fewer victims.

I am very proud of the committed partnership between the United States and Cambodia over the past 15 years in the fight against human trafficking. And in that spirit, I am delighted to announce today the latest chapter in our cooperation, our new four-year Cambodia Counter Trafficking in Persons program funded by USAID. This program will support Cambodia’s National Plan of Action as well as provincial anti-trafficking committees in a number of provinces.

In addition to assisting with the investigation of trafficking crimes, this program will provide vocational training and viable employment opportunities to poor Cambodians who are vulnerable to human trafficking. This reflects our belief that in order to address trafficking, we have to address the root causes that make people vulnerable to trafficking – namely education and economic opportunity.

In closing, I would like to recognize once again the important progress the Cambodian government and its partners have made to combat human trafficking of all kinds. We are committed to working closely with the government on this critical challenge in the months and years ahead. Our hope is that one day, when Cambodians seek to migrate to take up new jobs, they can do so safely and legally, and work and live in dignity, and do so without fear of being trafficked.

Thank you very much.