Cambodian Government Bans Somaly Mam from Running Future Anti-Trafficking NGO

Somaly Mam, former executive director of the Somaly Mam Foundation (SMF), who was forced to resign from her position within the organisation in May 2014, due to allegations that she had deliberately fabricated key aspects of both her personal history, and those of the children being cared for by her organisation for explicit financial gain; has been officially banned by the Khmer Government from running another anti-trafficking NGO.

Cambodian Government Council of Ministers spokesman, Phay Siphan, said that the Khmer government would prevent the notorious anti-trafficking advocate, Somaly Mam, from establishing a new NGO within the Khmer nation. “I think that she is not going to run an NGO again,” Mr. Siphan said. “We are not going to allow her to run this kind of activity again.”

Man’s organisations, SMF and AFESIP, attracted A-list Western celebrities, high profile CEOs and other powerbrokers, was highly criticised by the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers and the Khmer Women's Network for Unity, for Man's deliberate conflation of human trafficking and sex work- with disastrous results for local sex workers.

Sex worker activists have directly held the SMF with conflating the number of underage sex workers in Cambodia and for advocating ‘raid and rescue’ tactics within sex industry venues which sex workers have reported involving human rights violations. Raid and rescue operations were conducted by a coalition of abolitionist groups, including the American Evangelical NGO, the International Justice Mission; AFESIP; and the Grey Man ( a volunteer ‘squad’ of ex-Australian police and military who aim to use their “technical skills” against identifying “pimps”, “human traffickers”, and others profiting from the sex trade). The results of these raids and rescue missions have resulted in sex work spaces being closed down, sex workers being arrested under spurious charges, violent “arrests” of sex workers, and international media attention which both failed to disguise the identity of the detained workers and simultaneously portray them in a way which suggested the workers were both criminal and victim.

A Newsweek story, published in May 2014, which was the catalyst for Mam’s resignation from SMF, reported inconsistencies in Man’s official biography, and included interviews with Khmer children who reported that Mam specifically coached them to claim histories of child sexual exploitation and violence. Prior to the campaign against exposing Mam’s fabrications, her organisation, SMF, attracted millions of dollars of funding and generated a dangerous belief in the conflation between sex work and sexual exploitation.

Mr. Siphan, the first Khmer government representative to comment on Mam said that, “she had deliberately misled the world, but that there were no plans to prosecute her.” However, Siphan also said, “We don’t see her acting right now, but if she does have new activities planned, we can stop her from doing that, because it is a breach of trust, because she used a huge amount of international money. She has no right to do that activity anymore and we don’t want to see this kind of case again.”

Mr. Siphan stated that he was concerned about Mam’s deception on Cambodia’s reputation. “I regret that Ms. Mam Somaly, director of AFESIP, who fabricated a bad story in order to get personal benefits, by cheating the queen of Spain and the German president, as well as the world, wasting millions of dollars and also damaging the honour and face of Cambodia as a whole.”

Mr. Siphan stance is highly likely to stymie Ms. Mam’s plans to revive her career in the anti-trafficking sector, which she revealed last month in a Marie Claire magazine article. The article revealed that the New Somaly Mam Fund had been established in the United States, with the aim of soliciting donations for AFESIP, purportedly by friends who want Ms. Mam to remain “front and center” in the anti-trafficking movement.


Regional Correspondent: Asia and the Pacific