THE government has lashed out at a recent Human Rights Watch report alleging the “systematic” abuse of sex workers in government-run detention centres, denying that sex workers are even sent to one of the centres cited by the United States-based watchdog.
In a report released on Monday, HRW accused the government of subjecting sex workers to beatings, extortion and rape, and called for the closure of detention centres where they have been illegally detained.
But in a letter sent to the Post yesterday, the Ministry of Social Affairs stated that the Prey Speu centre in Dangkor district – one of two centres listed by HRW in the report – was used to provide training to beggars and other street people. It said the centre had never been used to house sex workers, whose “rehabilitation” was handled in conjunction with 10 NGO partners.
“The Ministry of Social Affairs would like to reject the untrue information that causes confusion to the public ... and affects the honour of the NGO partners that cooperated to provide the services to those sex-trafficked victims,” the letter stated. “No street sex worker has received services from the centre at all.”
Enclosed with the letter was a photograph of officials handing bags of rice, instant noodles, clothing and bottles of soy sauce to what appear to be street people at Prey Speu.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia division, said yesterday that the group stood by its findings.
“While [the ministry] says it does not intend to send sex workers to Prey Speu, that is not the reality on the ground,” he said in an email.
He said HRW and other rights groups learned of sex workers being held against their will at the centre as recently as last month, despite a June 2009 pledge from the ministry to cease holding sex workers at Prey Speu.
“Rather than issuing blanket denials that have little credibility, [the ministry] should investigate the abuses at Prey Speu, and provide unfettered and continuous access for Cambodian and international human rights NGOs,” Robertson said.