Anti-trafficking law resulting in rights abuses in Cambodia

Sex wrokers protest in Cambodia

The “Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation” passed recently in Cambodia, which aims to eliminate trafficking by stamping out the sex industry, is resulting in serious abuses of sex workers’ human rights. The law was passed in order to meet standards inline with the United State policy on trafficking in persons. However, since crackdowns which began in March when police shut down brothels and rounded up male, female and trans sex workers, sex workers have been forcibly detained and attacked, raped and robbed in rehabiliation centres.

Not only is this affecting the right to coporeal self-determination by the workers and their ability to earn a livelihood, but is also having a profound impact on health. HIV positive sex workers are having difficulty accessing anti-retroviral drugs, condoms are being used as evidence of sex work and many are afraid to access STI services. Andrew Hunter from the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW), one of the organisations condemning the crackdown, additionally claims that ‘national HIV prevention programs for sex workers have completely broken down’.

However, in the face of all this violence and repression, sex workers’ organisations are not sitting down. Three grass-roots sex workers’ oprganisations, The Women’s Network for Unity, Cambodian Prostitutes Union and Cambodian Network for Men’s and Women’s Development, alongside the APNSW organised a day of action. Over two hundred sex workers protested, using role play, speech and video evidence to demonstrate the brutality and misery that the new law is causing.

Attendees at the event also heard from two sex workers from India speaking about their fight against trafficking using an effective model of anti-trafficking that respects human rights and which is not in conflict with HIV prevention programs. Further highlights included a video about the anti-trafficking activities of sex workers in Sonagachi, India and The Messenger Band, presenting songs on sex workers defending the right to livelihood.

Condoleeza Rice speaking for The US government, who demanded the changes and which pumped over $14 million into the crackdown have supported the Cambodian authorities and praised their efforts. Though they stated that Cambodia still needed to do more to comply with US anti-trafficking standards.

How you can help
APNSW calls on all those organisations who support the human rights of sex workers to sign onto demands by declaring their support for WNU’s call for this situation to be urgently addressed by the government of Cambodia and for UNAIDS and other UN agencies to openly declare their support for sex workers human rights and to reject the anti-trafficking law itself as a violation of sex workers human rights.

For more information contact Andrew Hunter at www.apnsw.org

Photo credit: WTOP News

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