The National Committee Against Torture (NACT) continues to do outreach work to raise awareness among sub-national officials about respect for human rights and the UN Convention against Torture as the draft law on the Establishment of a National Committee against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment is being finalised.

Cambodia became a signatory to the UN convention in 1992. And in 2007, the National Assembly enacted additional protocols. These require the Kingdom to introduce measures against torture including the establishment of an independent national body for that purpose.

NACT chairman Nuth Sa An was in Mondulkiri and Ratanakkiri provinces on February 10 to raise awareness about the obligation of sub-national authorities to refrain from using any form of torture on detainees.

Sa An said he held the sessions with local authorities to make them aware of the rights of those who are in custody for any reason in order to prevent any torture or other inhumane treatment from taking place.

“We have documents about human rights, the [UN] Convention against Torture and the role of the committee to show to them.

“Some provincial officials don’t know this information. Even the Mondulkiri and Ratanakkiri leaders didn’t know much about it. Just yesterday when I told them about it, they were surprised by what I had to tell them,” he said.

Though his mission was slowed down by the Covid-19 pandemic, Sa An said that from 2020 up until today, he had completed informational sessions in seven provinces and is scheduled to conduct more in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces on February 24 and then Banteay Meanchey and Battambang on March 3.

In May of last year, Ministry of Interior officials resumed discussion of the draft law on the Establishment of a National Committee against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, following a long delay dating back to 2013.

The draft law has now reached the inter-ministeral stage. Sa An said the bill consists of 10 chapters and more than 30 articles, but it could be altered further during future inter-ministerial discussions.

He said the draft law reached Ministry of Civil Service but Minister of Economy and Finance Aun Pornmoniroth had suggested that the three ministries should first discuss it.

Sa An said that when the bill becomes a law, an independent national committee will be formed. He had appealed for assistance from international or UN’s bodies to help accelerate the drafting of the law.

In early 2020, a high-profile case of torture took place in Banteay Meanchey province that resulted in the death of a detainee named Tuy Sros. Two Military Police officers were arrested and charged following the incident. In January of this year, they were sentenced by the Battambang Provincial Court to four and seven years, respectively.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director for rights group Licadho, said that when Cambodia acceded to the UN Convention against Torture in 1992, it effectively became a law as is the case with all international treaties once a nation ratifies them.

He said the current draft law should include more input from relevant stakeholders, but he was pleased with the efforts being made at educating and training local officials.

“It is important to provide education and training to sub-national officials about the convention and exactly what treatment falls into the category of torture.

“And it was even more important that action was taken in Banteay Meanchey against the Military Police officers who tortured a detainee resulting in his death. Such legal enforcement should continue in order to prevent other officials from following their bad example,” he said.