Diplomatic Cable Shows U.S. Embassy Knew of Anti-Trafficking Advocate Somaly Mam’s Flaws

Jun 4, 2015
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A leading Cambodian newspaper reported Monday that the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh knew that a prominent anti-trafficking activist had lied about her background, and suspected that one of her non-profits had been mismanaging funds. And yet, the story makes clear, the U.S. Embassy chose not to act.

Diplomatic Cable Shows U.S. Embassy Knew of Anti-Trafficking Advocate Somaly Mam's Flaws

Author and disgraced human rights advocate Somaly Mam attends the Somaly Mam Foundation Gala on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013 in New York. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)

The Phnom Penh Post newspaper said Monday that the U.S. Embassy in the Cambodian capital knew for years that disgraced anti-trafficking activist Somaly Mam had engaged in deceptive practices.

The embassy also suspected that local non-profit AFESIP which operates shelters in Cambodia for victims of sex trafficking, and which Somaly Mam co-founded in 1996 had “mismanaged” its funding.

Additionally the embassy was also aware that the quality of medical and psychological care at the shelters AFESIP operates was woefully inadequate, a lack of support that had led “many unnamed interns and staff” at the non-profit to resign.

Despite that, the embassy chose to ignore the allegations on the grounds that to act could undermine funding for other anti-trafficking organizations and harm those already in AFESIP’s care.

The Phnom Penh Post article was based for the most part on a May 2012 embassy diplomatic cable that the newspaper obtained after filing a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. government.

The cable titled “Somaly Mam Under Microscope,” which the newspaper shared with VOA sheds light into the reasoning behind the embassy’s ongoing support for the activist, despite knowing about a litany of significant problems.

Somaly Mam, the cable noted, was, “a positive force in the anti-trafficking effort” and “an effective and far-reaching spokesperson who has raised awareness and significant funding for anti-[trafficking] interventions”.

It went on to state that: “Although there are concerns that the funding may be mismanaged and that AFESIP’s shelters may be lacking in quality care, Somaly Mam’s efforts still represent a positive alternative to the severe sexual abuse victims would otherwise be facing.”

On the subject of medical care, sources told the embassy that: “[V]ictims resident in AFESIP shelters had access to psychological care only once every three months, even in cases of extreme need.”

It added: “The shelter staff was also reportedly unable to respond to emergency medical situations, even at the most basic level.”

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Ernest Greene
Ernest Greene
8 years ago

Could anyone possibly be surprised? No government wants to tangle with the anti-sex-work lobby even though governments are very much aware of the fraudulent activities involved. Politically, it’s risky to take on anyone wrapped in the sackcloth of martyrdom.

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