Cindy Dyer, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for monitoring and combating trafficking, is planning to push Cambodia’s new government to ramp up its efforts to crack down on cyberscam operations that trap many trafficking victims in slavelike conditions.
A recently completed visit to Phnom Penh by Dyer “will serve as an opportunity for information sharing and coordination on anti-trafficking efforts,” the State Department said last week in a release.
Dyer met with a range of officials “with the objective of building a relationship with the new government for future coordination and advocating for progress in the most critical areas, including increased investigations and prosecutions of cyberscam operations,” said the November 15 release.
Cambodia’s role as host of cybercriminals has been in an international spotlight. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) released a report this summer estimating that the industry has victimized 100,000 people in Cambodia.
Lured by promise of jobs
Operators of these scamming networks recruit unwitting workers from across Asia, often with the promise of well-paying tech jobs, and then force them to attempt to scam victims online while living in slavelike conditions, according to the report.
Countries including Indonesia, Taiwan and China have urged countries like Cambodia and Laos to crack down on the industry, while warning their own citizens of the dangers in traveling to these countries, according to the UNHCHR report.
The U.S. State Department’s annual report on global human trafficking, released in June, placed Cambodia in Tier 3, meaning the government has made insufficient efforts to address human trafficking and does not meet the minimum standards.
During her two-day visit to Cambodia that began November 15, Dyer met with officials from the ministries of justice, labor and social affairs, as well as representatives of the National Police and the National Committee for Counter Trafficking (NCCT) within the Ministry of Interior, according to an email from the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh. Dyer also held discussions with civil society groups working on combating human trafficking.
The discussions focused “on Cambodia’s efforts to protect trafficking victims, including providing protection assistance services for victims of trafficking and vulnerable migrants, capacity building for service providers and government officials to improve victim identification and referral, and addressing emerging trends in forced criminality,” the State Department release said.
More training urged
Am Sam Ath, operations director at the Cambodian rights group Licadho, told VOA Khmer that Dyer’s visit highlighted the need for Cambodia to tackle human trafficking and online scams.
“We see that the United States … ranks Cambodia third in the blacklist of human trafficking. It also has a lot of impact on our country, and if Cambodia does not make an effort further in the prevention of human trafficking or online scams, the ranking cannot be improved,” he said by telephone from the group’s Phnom Penh office.
He called on the Cambodian government to strengthen the capacity of officials and authorities to crack down on online crime.
"This crime problem is technologically modern, so the authorities involved in it have to get more training to keep up with the situation, as well as the timing of the crime,” Am Sam Ath added.
National Police spokesperson Chhay Kim Khoeun and Justice Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin declined to comment on Dyer’s visit, referring questions to Chou Bun Eng, permanent deputy chairman of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking. VOA Khmer called Chou Bun Eng, but she did not respond to a request for comment.
U.S. Embassy spokesperson Katherine Diop told VOA Khmer that Dyer’s visit to Cambodia was part of a U.S. effort across the world to encourage governments to take responsibility for preventing human trafficking and protecting victims.
“The United States stands with the Cambodian people to identify, support and seek justice for human trafficking victims,” she wrote in an email.
The UNHCHR report released in late August said the online scams were occurring in five countries in Southeast Asia: Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and the Philippines.
“People who have been trafficked into online forced criminality face threats to their right to life, liberty and security of the person,” said the U.N. report. “They are subject to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, arbitrary detention, sexual violence, forced labor and other forms of labor exploitation as well as a range of other human rights violations and abuses.”
Cambodia first acknowledged the issue last year when Interior Minister Sar Kheng said in August that officials were being deployed across the country to check hotels, casinos and other establishments for potential trafficking victims.
The government has since announced sporadic operations to free victims and arrest traffickers. However, experts recently told VOA Khmer that these efforts have not noticeably curbed the illegal operations or caught ringleaders of the trafficking networks.