Cambodia has developed a reputation as an extremely unsafe country rife with illegal gambling, kidnapping and general mayhem. The government is finally starting to take notice and promises to take action.
Last September, police in Cambodia raided a compound in Phnom Penh linked to human trafficking and illegal gambling. Earlier this month, a man allegedly killed himself as a last-resort attempt to flee a human trafficking ring. That was at the same time that police freed a group of Indonesians caught up in Cambodia’s illegal trade.
These are just a few of the latest cases that highlight a certain degree of lawlessness that has taken over areas of Cambodia. However, the issues have been present for years. Now, as public pressure to make changes increases, the government appears ready to take action.
Cambodia Government Calls for Change
Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sar Kheng is calling out government organizations and law enforcement, according to the Khmer Times. He wants them to work harder at ending crime in cities like Sihanoukville, which has been a hotbed for illegal activity for years.
It should be noted that the government official’s intervention seems intrinsically tied to upcoming elections. He even hinted at that when announcing the crackdown, stating that the “problem must be solved before the elections.”
The commune-level elections are this June. It is difficult to imagine law enforcement undoing decades of corruption and criminal activity in less than three months.
When images of crimes happening in Cambodia are spread around the world, people would wonder why Cambodia is so bad,” asserts Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sar Kheng.
The Chinese government offered to help, perhaps with ulterior motives in mind. It requested permission from Cambodia to lead investigations into criminal activity involving Chinese nationals in the country. However, Cambodia turned it down.
If it allowed China free control to investigate and subsequently arrest Chinese individuals in Cambodia, the government would have to give other countries the same permission. This, asserts Kheng, would undermine the sovereignty of Cambodia.
Public Pressure Mounts
There is a growing call from humanitarian groups and governments for Cambodia to take a more proactive stance. At least five Asian embassies have issued notices to their citizens to stay away due to the problems.
They’re not alone, as the US State Department lists Cambodia as a Level 4 country. This is the worst level the government gives, and signifies its position that citizens shouldn’t visit the country. The warning is due to violent crime, “land mines and unexploded ordnance” in certain provinces and COVID-19.
The continuing humanitarian crisis, coupled with the response from governments, led to civil groups demanding action, according to the Khmer Times. 35 groups, including Adhoc, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, International Justice Mission and Transparency International, penned a letter to the government to voice their opinion.
In it, they assert that the government must do something. It needs to stop the “forced labor, slavery and torture” that is happening in the country. The groups call the situation a “tragedy” and asserts that “relevant actors” need to work to eradicate the criminal activity.
The government should fully investigate and abolish all compounds linked with illegal gambling and fraud operations and associated forced labor, slavery or torture. The state should also investigate alleged complicity between some government authorities and the criminal enterprises,” asserts a group of civil organizations.
They also call for a unified response that includes governments from other countries. This might stem from a belief that Cambodia isn’t capable of resolving the issues alone. That’s possible, as it took intervention from the United Nations to get the government to release 200 NagaWorld strikers this week.
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