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UN alarm over abuse claims

The United Nations committee on children’s rights has called for investigations of alleged abuse of children in government-run rehabilitation and social affairs centres, facilities rights groups have long condemned as incubators for torture and ill treatment.

The UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child raised serious concerns about the centres in a report released following Cambodia’s appearance before the Geneva-based body earlier this month.

The government must “ensure prompt investigation into allegations of ill treatment and torture of children in those centers and that perpetrators are brought to justice,” the committee said, calling for the release of all children in arbitrary detention. It also urged the establishment of a “child-sensitive mechanism to receive complaints against law enforcement officers”.

[The government must] ensure prompt investigation into allegations of ill treatment

Rights groups say children are frequently held in indefinite confinement in drug rehabilitation centres or youth centres after being picked up in street sweeps. Detainees have reported frequent beatings and other sadistic treatment from supervisors at such facilities.
Ministry of Social Affairs spokesman Lem El Djurado said yesterday there was “no intention to abuse children” at drug rehabilitation centres, rejecting the UN allegations.

“I think these criticisms lack basic evidence,” he said. “All centres are working in a humanitarian fashion and in cooperation with the parents of the children.”

Lem El Djurado added that the government was receiving assistance from the UNICEF country office in managing the centres and bringing them into compliance with UN standards.

UNICEF came under scrutiny last year following a report from Human Rights Watch alleging widespread abuse in 11 government-run rehabilitation centres, including one funded by UNICEF, in which detainees reportedly faced forced confinement, violent assaults and poor treatment for their addictions.

UNICEF initially rejected the allegations before later acknowledging them and reportedly raising concerns with the government that led to the UN-funded centre’s closure.

Marc Vergara, spokesman for UNICEF’s Cambodia office, said yesterday that he had not seen the report from the Committee on the Rights of the Child and could not comment on the issue.

UNICEF is currently carrying out an assessment of youth detention in cooperation with the local UN human rights office and the social affairs ministry, he added.

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