Search

Search form

Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Weak laws stymie the fight against torture

Weak laws stymie the fight against torture

Weak laws stymie the fight against torture

When authorities discovered 27-year-old Mom Rithy chained to a wall in a Preah Sihanouk province rental house, gagged, badly beaten and missing a finger, they took swift action.

They arrested three suspects – two Russians and a Ukrainian – for having allegedly bound and mutilated Rithy as punishment for attempting to steal a cheap cell phone. The next day the provincial court charged the trio for the illegal detention and torture.

Though the charges in Rithy’s case may have seemed like a no-brainer, many torture cases go unreported every year. Even those that are reported often go unresolved, said the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee and a handful of other rights groups at a conference on torture issues yesterday.

“In many cases, for us to convict a person, they use violence to make them confess,” said CHRAC Chairman Sok Sam Oeun at the event.

“The mandate of the investigating judge is to look into the evidence – both exculpatory and inculpatory evidence,” Sam Oeun, who is also executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, added. “But if he does not do so, they will still use the confession. So we must strengthen the capacity of judges.”

Many torture cases, he continued, go unpunished simply because torture is so ill-defined under Cambodian law.

“Many [civil society organisations] focus on how to lobby on law reform, but in the last few years, many donors focus more on the grassroots,” Sam Oeun said, noting that demonstrating to affect change can’t be effective unless the legislation is reformed as well.

“But if the definition of torture is not clear, do we think there is less torture? If the law is not clear, then no one will be prosecuted.”

The poor definition of torture is especially troublesome when victims are intimidated psychologically, instead of physically, said Ny Chakrya, head of the human rights and legal aid section of the rights group Adhoc.

“Sometimes police don’t have to beat them. They may do a cruel act to a person in the room next to them to make them scared,” he said.

Adhoc has observed at least 141 cases of torture since 2010, a figure Chakrya said was almost certainly incomplete. The rights group Licadho reported 135 torture complaints in 2011 alone, a nearly 30 per cent rise over 2010.

“We need more participation from the state agents,” Chakrya said. “NGOs should not be seen as the opponent.”

Police spokesman Khieu Sopheak denied that torture was commonplace in Cambodia, but said that in any country “they could not say that there is no torture of suspects – even in America”.

Even so, he added, police don’t get too cosy with suspects.
“In Cambodia, we never sampeah (a traditional greeting) the suspects,” he said.

RECOMMENDED STORIES

  • Breaking: PM says prominent human rights NGO ‘must close’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has instructed the Interior Ministry to investigate the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and potentially close it “because they follow foreigners”, appearing to link the rights group to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party's purported “revolution”. The CNRP - the

  • Rainsy and Sokha ‘would already be dead’: PM

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday appeared to suggest he would have assassinated opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha had he known they were promising to “organise a new government” in the aftermath of the disputed 2013 national elections. In a clip from his speech

  • Massive ceremony at Angkor Wat will show ‘Cambodia not in anarchy’: PM

    Government officials, thousands of monks and Prime Minister Hun Sen himself will hold a massive prayer ceremony at Angkor Wat in early December to highlight the Kingdom’s continuing “peace, independence and political stability”, a spectacle observers said was designed to disguise the deterioration of

  • PM tells workers CNRP is to blame for any sanctions

    In a speech to workers yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen pinned the blame for any damage inflicted on Cambodia’s garment industry by potential economic sanctions squarely on the opposition party. “You must remember clearly that if the purchase orders are reduced, it is all