IJM Cambodia: Former Chief of Police Convicted of Trafficking Crimes in Historic Ruling

Today is a new day in Cambodia: Four men were convicted for trafficking crimes, including the former chief of the Phnom Penh Municipal Anti-Trafficking Unit.
Today is a new day in Cambodia: Four men were convicted for trafficking crimes, including the former chief of the Phnom Penh Municipal Anti-Trafficking Unit.

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA – In a landmark case that will echo throughout trafficking rings around the capital city of Cambodia, the former chief of the Phnom Penh Municipal Anti Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Police was found guilty as an accomplice to aggravated procurement of prostitution. Yesterday, he and three other perpetrators were convicted for trafficking crimes, all sentenced to at least seven years in prison.

The former chief is the first police officer from an anti-trafficking unit to ever be convicted of a trafficking in persons crime. This conviction will serve as a deterrent to others who might seek to profit from or aid traffickers in Cambodia, and it sets a precedent for future convictions against corrupt police officers who are complicit in trafficking crimes.

"It's hard to proceed with a case against a high-ranking police officer in Cambodia, and this verdict is a very positive sign," explains Sarouen Sek, IJM Cambodia's lawyer who represented two of IJM's clients who testified in the trial against the senior-level officer. "These convictions will not only act as a deterrent to others, but also protect many girls and women from exploitation."

"This is an historic conviction in Cambodia," says IJM's Director of Operations in Southeast Asia, Blair Burns. "This man was in a senior position of authority, responsible to protect young women who had been trafficked for sex. And he was instead protecting the owners of the brothels where they were being exploited."

The former chief is the first police officer from an anti-trafficking unit to ever be convicted of a trafficking in persons crime. This conviction will serve as a deterrent to others who might seek to profit from or aid traffickers in Cambodia, and it sets a precedent for future convictions against corrupt police officers who are complicit in trafficking crimes.

In June 2011, IJM assisted the Cambodian Ministry of Interior's Anti Human Trafficking police to rescue women and girls who had been raped for profit in two brothels, both owned by a network of powerful criminals in Phnom Penh. In the trial, two of the trafficking survivors testified to the exploitation they endured in the brothels. Other police officers also corroborated the trafficking charges against the corrupt former chief of the municipal-level anti-trafficking unit.

An article published in The Phnom Penh Post reported on the trial days before the judgment was delivered. The Post reported that the former chief of the municipal anti-trafficking police would solicit bribes from brothels, alerting them when an anti-trafficking operation was being planned. The presiding judge in the trial said that the former chief "ordered his closest people to collect money for him from a number of brothels for his protection from police crackdowns or arrests."

The brothel owner was present for the trial and has begun serving an 8-year sentence in prison. The former chief of the municipal-level anti-trafficking police and the two others convicted with him were tried and convicted in absentia. The search for their whereabouts continues.

The brave survivors who chose to testify in the trial of the abuse they had endured are now thriving in freedom. IJM social workers have connected both with aftercare services, including trauma-focused counseling. One of the survivors, an adult woman, recently completed a vocational training program with one of IJM's trusted aftercare partners and was hired on to work at the café making high-end cakes and pastries.

These women no longer have to fear the brothel owners or the corrupt officer who helped to perpetuate their violent abuse. Instead, the perpetrators who have been publicly named and declared guilty are the ones fearfully in hiding. Today is a new day in Cambodia.