A SEVERELY inadequate legal system and poorly developed law enforcement have prevented Cambodia from meeting global commitments to prevent torture, rights advocates say.
In a statement released Saturday to mark the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) said authorities in the Kingdom must boost efforts to curb instances of torture.
The AHRC called the country’s judicial and policing systems “wholly inadequate” to deal with the issue.
“The problem of torture in Cambodia ... is rooted in Cambodia’s policing system, which is seriously lacking in every way....” the statement said.
“The underdevelopment of the policing system results in the constant use of coercion on people who are arrested.”
Victims of torture have few options when wading through the legal system, and they often feel compelled to drop complaints against police, the AHRC contends.
“This is due to the fear of serious reprisals following the complaints,” the statement said.
“The complete absence of any kind of protection for those making complaints prevents people from making such complaints.”
Officials on Sunday rejected allegations that people are tortured, either in police custody or within the prison system.
Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, noted that Heng Pov, the disgraced former municipal police chief who has been sentenced to more than 90 years behind bars, managed to publish a book earlier this year while incarcerated at Prey Sar prison.
“Who can believe he was tortured in prison? How can police benefit from torturing a prisoner?” he said.
Heng Pov said in May that he had witnessed the torture and beatings of other inmates.
Hi Chamroeun, deputy director of the provincial prison in Battambang, said rights monitors check on his facility on a daily basis.
“Those NGOs just report according to documents they read. They have never come directly to visit our prison,” he said of the AHRC.
“If we did torture prisoners, we could not avoid [local rights groups] Licadho and Adhoc staffers’ eyes.”
Torture difficult to prove
Rights groups, however, say there is evidence to suggest that some people are tortured while in custody.
The number of torture allegations reported to Licadho monitors has been on a downward trend in the last decade, with most of the victims reporting torture while in police custody, according to a report on prison conditions released last March.
In 1999, there were 450 reports of torture in police custody and 49 while in prison. In 2008, there were 78 in police custody and just seven while in prison.
But because interviews are rarely conducted in private without a prison guard watching, making accurate estimates can be problematic, said Ham Sunrith, Licadho’s deputy director of monitoring and protection.
“We have difficulties getting information on torture because police or guards always accompany us during the interviews, so the prisoners dare not talk about torture,” he said.
Cambodia is the only country in the region to have signed on to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, which compels signatory nations to establish some kind of national torture-prevention mechanism.
Such a body was supposed to be in place by 2008, according to the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), though authorities currently have not implemented one.