Lawmakers Urge President Obama to Address Human Trafficking Concerns at ASEAN Summit
President Obama is meeting with ten Southeast Asian leaders at the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit starting February 15 in Rancho Mirage, California. The Summit addresses the economic and cultural development of Southeast Asia. On February 11, over 100 parliamentarians from the region issued a joint open letter to President Obama, urging him to use the summit as an opportunity to discuss critical human rights issues that plague many Southeast Asian countries.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen will be attending the summit. Last week seven U.S. Senators sent him a letter calling for greater transparency in national elections and increased efforts to stamp out human trafficking in Cambodia.
The State Department’s 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report named Cambodia a “Tier 2 Watch List” country, as a source, destination, and transit country for sex and labor trafficking victims. While Cambodia has made progress by reducing the prevalence of child sex trafficking, human traffickers have increasingly targeted adult male Cambodians for enslavement on Thai-owned fishing vessels in international waters—a human rights crisis that a number of news outlets and human rights organizations have worked to expose since early 2015.
The ASEAN Summit provides another opportunity for President Obama to continue raising human trafficking as a concern at the highest diplomatic levels. Several countries in the region are a party to the recently signed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which includes provisions meant to protect workers from forced labor. Enforcement will be key to ensuring that these countries will improve their records on combating human trafficking.