Phnom Penh’s Social Affairs Department yesterday dismissed reports that dozens of homeless people were sent to the city’s notorious Prey Speu detention centre this week, even as the United Nations confirmed the transfer and expressed concern at the continued use of the facility.
Kim Vutha, Daun Penh district’s chief of security, said on Wednesday that 61 homeless people were sent to the facility in the early hours of the morning after being rounded up from the streets.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Cambodia later said it had been informed that 54 people had been detained at the centre, including four to five children.
But Son Sophal, director of the Municipal Social Affairs Department, remained adamant yesterday that the facility, which has come under renewed fire this month after reports of two recent deaths there, had not been used.
“They [the 61 people] are all drug users, so we sent them to Orkas Khnom,” he said, referring to an equally controversial drug detention centre in Phnom Penh.
The reports earlier this month of more deaths at Prey Speu prompted pledges of reform from the government, which included the creation of a technical working group with a UN and civil society presence tasked with finding alternative solutions to the abusive centre.
But two weeks later, the group has yet to convene, as a prakas establishing it awaits approval, according to OHCHR’s country representative Wan-Hea Lee.
In the meantime, Lee said, OHCHR “continues to be concerned by the fact that people are still being rounded up and held at Prey Speu”.
“OHCHR has not been able to obtain clearance to return to the site recently. We are ready to do so at any moment.”