A new committee to combat torture in Cambodia’s prisons and jails has been formed at the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen, with the top position given to a former government official whose son is a deputy prisons director.
Ex-Interior Ministry official Nuth Sa An, the new head of the National Committee Against Torture, said yesterday that the nine-member body will act independently in their investigation of torture-related abuses despite all being composed of retired government officials.
“None of us are with a political party because the position has nothing to do with politics,” said Sa An, adding that civil society organisations are not allowed to participate.
Sa An’s son, Nuth Savna, is a deputy director of the General Prisons Department at the Ministry of Interior. A subsequent call to Sa An to address potential conflicts of interest went unanswered.
Human rights observers have long criticised Cambodia’s delay in meeting the requirements of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which requires the Kingdom to establish an independent national body that allows victims to report torture-related abuses.
Cambodia has yet to establish that independent body in the decade since ratifying the agreement, observers say.
Last year, Interior Minister Sar Kheng said he would reform the government’s little-known Committee Against Torture into one “which can be trusted by the public”. Mak Sambath, permanent deputy director of the new committee, confirmed yesterday that the previous committee – formed in 2009 and widely criticised for a lack of independence – had been “dissolved” and replaced.
Billy Chia-Lung Tai, a human rights lawyer who conducted a review of Cambodia’s implementation of international cov-enants last year, said he was surprised to hear about the existence of such a body.
“I’m fully willing to accept that this committee may have existed in some form for quite a long time. But if we are not even aware of it, what’s this committee been doing?” Tai said. “That’s the question.”
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, questioned whether the Cambodian government had ever been serious about trying to investigate torture in its detention facilities.
“It’s pretty good at setting up useless committees to give the appearance that something is being done, and this is more of the same,” Robertson said.
The royal decree names Sieng Labres and Mak Sambath as deputy directors of the committee, and Sakheoun Savatdy, Ou Sirita, Kong Chhan, Khiev Pov, Liv Mov and Nhang Torng as members.
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