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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - 'Battambang barbecuer' still working

'Battambang barbecuer' still working

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Government officials have claimed they are unaware that a convicted torturer was

appointed as the deputy director of the Battambang prison, but indicated they would

not investigate the matter.

Battambang prison ... torture in the 1990s.

The United Nations Committee Against Torture raised the issue of Tem Seng at its

meeting in Geneva last month. Seng was known as the "Battambang Barbecuer"

for his role in torturing prisoners at the jail during the UNTAC period in the early

1990s.

The UN committee requested more information about Seng, and committee member Dr Ole

Vedel Rasmussen of Denmark said it was "extremely worrying" if he had been

re-employed at the prison. The committee sent a series of questions to the government,

but senior human rights official, Om Yentieng, said he was yet to see them.

The director of the Department of Prisons, Kol Samkan, and his deputy, Chem Ny, both

claimed to be unaware of Seng's past conviction. The case stemmed from 1993, when

an UNTAC monitor recorded testimony from several prisoners who said Seng took a sadistic

pleasure beating and torturing prisoners. On several occasions he had tied prisoners

to a tree in the center of the prison yard and burned their bodies with hot pokers

while other inmates watched.

Seng was arrested in July 1993 by UNTAC and detained in the UN's own prison until

September of that year. He was then handed over to Phnom Penh's Municipal Court where

he was sentenced to 12 months in prison.

Government officials have maintained in international forums that police and other

officials are held accountable for such actions. Testifying before a UN human rights

committee in 1999, Om Yentieng detailed cases of police being charged or dismissed

for such behavior.

And in its 1999 torture report to the UN, the government cited the prosecution of

Seng as evidence that it had acted against officials guilty of mistreating prisoners.

But Yentieng deflected questions on the current status of Tem Seng, saying the Post

should "speak to Tem Seng yourself".

The director of Battambang prison, Kong Saren, confirmed Seng was still working at

the jail, but said he did not want to be bothered by inquiries.

"People should allow him to be outside because he was in jail already for his

crimes," he said. "The human rights committees always come to ask about

his problems, [but] he doesn't want human rights or other groups to ask about this

any more."

Saren said the law did not allow officials to torture any of the 471 prisoners at

the facility. Occasionally, however, they were compelled to punish inmates.

"For example, if they try to escape from this prison, we need to add more punishment

to them like making them crawl on the ground and work in the prison, like digging

or cutting grass," he said.

The UN committee said it was worried at the widespread reports of torture in the

country's prisons and police stations. It outlined more than 20 "subjects of

concern" in the conclusions and recommendations of its Cambodia report.

The committee highlighted "the numerous, ongoing and consistent allegations

of acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

committed by law enforcement personnel in police stations and prisons."

It also took a swipe at the government over the "extended impunity for past

and present violations of human rights by law enforcement officials and members of

the armed forces", and criticised Phnom Penh for its failure to "to investigate

acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment".

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