Richard Bridle, the head of UNICEF’s Cambodia office, says that there is no “culture” of violence at the Chaom Chao Youth Rehabilitation Centre (“UN Denies Abuse of Drug Users”, March 22). What is his conclusion based upon? The fact that in a visit last week children at the centre joked with UNICEF staff and sought out conversation? That they were “engaging”?
I agree: The children we interviewed who had been detained at Chaom Chao were engaging. They were polite and readily joked with us. But they also told us – as they told your journalist – of being beaten, punished with electric shocks and whipped.
Neither UNICEF, the Ministry of Social Affairs nor the nongovernmental organization Mith Samlanh have conducted a credible, thorough or independent investigation, and no effective monitoring for ongoing abuse is in place.
UNICEF officials, six months after we first briefed them, have not spoken out or taken clear steps to investigate or protect the hundreds of children in other drug detention centres throughout the country.
It is unfortunate that since our report was released, UNICEF has spent more time making excuses for their support to the Ministry of Social Affairs than looking into what is actually going on.
UNICEF needs to do more than joke around with children at Choam Chao to determine if torture and abuse have, and are continuing, to take place. An independent investigation is needed.
Health and Human Rights Division Human Rights Watch
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