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UN Official: Human Trafficking on the Rise in Southeast Asia - 2002-08-21

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson condemns the rise of human trafficking in Southeast Asia, calling the region a hub for the shadowy global business.

During a speech in front of Cambodia's National Assembly, the United Nations' top human rights official branded Southeast Asia "a major center for the trafficking" of men, women and children. Mary Robinson says an estimated 200,000 people are "forced into lives of prostitution, pornography, slave labor and utter misery" in the region.

Ms. Robinson blames widespread inequality, a lack of employment opportunities, violence, discrimination and poverty for the rise in the problem. She says Vietnamese girls and women are commonly brought to Cambodia as sex workers, and Cambodian children, women and men are sent to Thailand and other countries to do what she described as "the most degrading work."

The high commissioner blames ineffective law enforcement, which is sometimes compounded by corruption, for allowing traffickers to operate with impunity.

Ms. Robinson also took aim at a recent court verdict in which Vietnamese sex workers forced into Cambodia were convicted of being illegal immigrants and given prison sentences. She says "those who have the misfortune to be trafficked are not criminals."

The commissioner, who arrived in Cambodia from Beijing late Tuesday, is meeting with senior officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, and representatives from private organizations during her two-day visit.

Ms. Robinson's visit comes as concerns rise over the disappearance of three people under U.N. protection. Rights groups suspect Cambodia forcibly deported them.

Two of those allegedly deported were Chinese followers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which the Chinese government has outlawed.

The third is a dissident Vietnamese Buddhist monk who was given refugee status and was living Phnom Penh when he disappeared last month. Human rights groups fear he has been sent back to Vietnam.