PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA — Police, government social workers, and NGO staff dedicated their time to a two-day workshop hosted by IJM Cambodia earlier this month. This committed group of over 130 people spent the two days learning how to work together more efficiently, independently and effectively in their response to domestic sex trafficking crimes.
Connecting Key Players to Protect the Vulnerable
IJM Cambodia planned the Phnom Penh Partner Equipping Workshop to support the current field office transition by bringing together casework partners to focus on strengthening collaboration, trust, and communication between civil society and government officials on child sex trafficking cases.
Since IJM Cambodia opened in 2003, it has partnered with the government to create a more functional and responsive public justice system. After seeing the Cambodian system grow, government leadership over counter-trafficking efforts increase, and a prevalence decrease in the commercial sexual exploitation of children, IJM Cambodia is ready to take itself out of the equation and test how the system operates in more direct partnership with citizens and community-based agencies.
At the workshop, Deputy Director of the Anti-Human Trafficking & Juvenile Protection unit (AHTJP) Ly Lay spoke, commenting, “IJM taught us a lot. We were like a child that they taught to walk.”
Lay outlined some areas of progress in the public justice system during the past 12 years, as well the current gaps that will continue to be addressed. During the workshop, he highlighted the need going forward for NGOs to support the AHTJP police. Displaying his personal dedication, Lay ended his presentation by providing his phone number to all attendees, noting that he was available 24/7.
“This is the kind of leadership that is growing the public justice system and building more trust between civil society and the government,” remarked John Roberts, Director of Investigations and Law Enforcement Development.
While over 130 attendees were present at this workshop in Phnom Penh, the team also hosted the same workshop in Sihanoukville and Siem Reap. Over 100 people from AHTJP police units, NGOs, and government social work agencies attended to learn best practices of moving cases through the justice system and effectively protecting and serving victims as they participate in criminal cases.
A Significant Shift in Taking Trafficking Seriously
Twelve years ago, Cambodia’s trajectory was towards injustice, impunity and chaos. Today, the trajectory of counter-trafficking in Cambodia bends towards justice, collaboration and restoration. IJM Cambodia has seen significant changes within the system since 2003. The positive changes indicate a public justice system with strong government leaders and police officers, committed government social workers, and increased public and civil society collaboration, as well as a demand for a justice system response that will help to hold the system accountable. But, IJM Cambodia is not taking itself out the equation without careful thought and a systematic approach.
IJM is no longer generating cases for Anti-Human Trafficking & Juvenile Protection police; rather, IJM provides technical support and mentorship as AHTJP generates their own casework and responds to referrals from citizens and civil society.
“To sustain the increased public demand for a justice system response and the decrease in the prevalence of minors being sold, IJM Cambodia is working to ensure that the every part - every link in the chain - between the public justice system, the public, community development and aftercare organizations, and community leaders is connected in our three project areas,” stated Christa Sharpe, IJM Cambodia field office director.
IJM has learned through experience that trust, rooted in hope for change and an authentic investment in building up a strong public justice system for the poor and vulnerable, will strengthen partnerships, networks and collaboration. Seeing police officers, social workers, and NGO staff interacting, answering one another’s questions, and laughing together may seem insignificant to an outsider, but to IJM staff who have long persevered in Cambodia, it is truly a beautiful image of building strong relationships to prove justice for the poor is possible.