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
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
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".