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Abuses ‘rife’, but change gives hope for 2013

Despite 2012 being a “devastating” year for human rights, initiatives for holding recruitment agencies accountable and for transporting prison inmates to their appeal hearings are two areas for cautious hope for 2013, according to rights group Licadho.  

In a new strategy, several NGOs since August have been coordinating legal efforts against recruitment agencies, such as Giant Ocean, allegedly involved in labour trafficking and they expect to file joint complaints in early 2013, according to Licadho’s annual report, released today.

Meanwhile, more than 100 prisoners since May have been able to attend their appeal hearings due to a “small-scale transport system” established after Licadho’s criticism of the justice system’s lack of transportation, the report says.

“This is a very positive development,” said Licadho advocacy consultant Jeff Vize, but he noted that the system was by no means problem-free.  “Many prisoners are reporting that they are not being returned to their provincial prison after their appeals are heard. They’re kept in the Phnom Penh area.”

Such information could deter prisoners from attending hearings and further overcrowd the already cramped Phnom Penh prisons, he said.

Despite a government statement in May that it would establish provincial courts of appeal to help manage the transportation problem, Vize said he had heard nothing about the initiative recently.

At the end of 2012, prisons were at 174 per cent capacity and “growth had once again begun to accelerate”, according to Licadho.

Although Vize said drug arrests had been significant in prison population growth in recent years, the report notes that “at least 12 human rights defenders” are among the country’s current prisoners.

“Land conflict continues to dominate the human rights agenda, and fear permeates the landscape,” the report says.

To contact the reporter on this story: Justine Drennan at justine.drennan@phnompenhpost.com

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