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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Underage defendants routinely jailed: report

Underage defendants routinely jailed: report

A semiannual study of defendants’ rights in Cambodian courts released this week found an alarming prevalence of pre-trial detention in cases involving juvenile suspects, who are routinely blended with adult prison populations.

The Cambodian Center for Human Rights’ sixth semiannual report of trial rights, which cited 354 criminal cases in Phnom Penh, Banteay Meanchey and Ratanakkiri courts in the first half of 2012, found that the majority of defendants under the age of 18 were placed in custody before their trial.

“We have a major concern regarding the implementation of the law with juvenile cases,” Duch Piseth, a CCHR project auditor, told the Post yesterday. “We don’t see any protective measures judges take to protect juveniles on trial.”

Of the 42 juvenile cases reviewed, defendants were put in pre-trial detention 92 per cent of the time in Phnom Penh and 90 per cent of the time in Banteay Meanchey, the study found. None of the Ratanakkiri cases involved minors. CCHR found no indication that any of the Phnom Penh juvenile defendants in custody were kept separate from adults, and only two were known to have been segregated from adults.

“Children should be . . . placed [outside of] pre-trial detention, because pre-trial detention is the last resort,” Ly Soklay, an attorney with NGO Protection of Juvenile Justice, said in an email. “There are no available rehabilitation programs and/or vocational training for child inmates in the most Cambodian prisons.”

Two teens are currently being held in connection with a November riot in Meanchey district after a Phnom Penh judge denied them bail, Yeng Virak, head of the Community Legal Education Centre, said.

Juvenile defendants’ privacy was also widely overlooked, the report found. While 33 of the cases were not posted on a public notice board, no measures were taken to keep members of the public out of the courtroom during juvenile cases.

Problems mainly arise from a lack of specific guidelines concerning juveniles, Piseth said.

“It is hard for judges to consider non-custodial [sentences], because there is no clear option,” Piseth said.

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