Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hockry moves to counter prison critics

Hockry moves to counter prison critics

Hockry moves to counter prison critics

I NTERIOR Minister You Hockry said he has taken action in the wake of criticism

from local NGOs and international human rights organizations over cramped and

inhumane living conditions in Phnom Penh's prisons.

Hockry said temporary

measures have been taken to relieve overcrowding and that 54 prisoners from PJ

prison have been shifted to Prey Sar prison and to the T5 prison in Kompong

Cham.

Hockry told the Post there are major plans to expand prison

facilities at Prey Sar and to provide a separate prison for women. He also said

there were plans to provide medical and sports facilities and vocational

training for prisoners.

He said: "The expanded prison in Prey Sar will

relieve overcrowding in other prisons, especially PJ and T3."

Hockry

said there are also plans to set up a separate prison for juvenile offenders

near Pochentong airport. He said the much discussed demolition of T3 prison will

not happen until Prey Sar has been expanded.

According to a press

statement from The Physicians for Human Rights , limited renovations of Prey

Sar, T3 and PJ have begun with assistance from the International Committee of

the Red Cross (ICRC) and the UN Center for Human Rights. The statement also said

the four juvenile prisoners in PJ have been shifted to T3 and segregated from

adults.

The Ministry of Interior has also reportedly announced that the

population at PJ will be limited to sixty by mid-July. Late last year the

government introduced some improvements such as regular prison visits by

prosecutors and an increase in prisoners' daily allowance to 1,000

riel.

The flurry of activity was prompted by several NGO reports from

NGOs. The one from the Physicians for Human Rights, called for the closure of PJ

prison citing "severe overcrowding, food and water shortages and an extreme

level of prisoner on prisoner violence."

A UN Center for Human Rights

report issued on June 1 found that PJ, meant to be a temporary holding facility

built for an estimated 40 persons awaiting trail, had in fact become a prison

holding over 190 people by late May. As a result 47 prisoners lived in the

corridors.

An ICRC one year study on 18 prisons observed "a lack of

water, sanitation, food and medical supplies in most of the jails visited", and

overcrowded conditions in the city prisons in Phnom Penh, Battambang and Siem

Reap.

King Sihanouk in a statement issued earlier this month said: "Many

defendants who are particularly impoverished, notably the women, have stagnated

in preventive detention for months or even years."

The King asked for the

release of very sick prisoners and those who have not committed very serious

crimes to alleviate the overcrowding problem.

The extreme overcrowding

in prisons is in part due to the fact that a majority of prisoners are still

awaiting trial.

A study done by human rights NGO Licadho in May found

that 410 of the 532 prisoners held in PJ, T3, Prey Sar and Takh Mau prisons had

received no trial, and 154 of these people had been in prison for more than six

months awaiting trial. One prisoner held in T3 has been awaiting trial for 8

years. The study found 32 of the people in these prisons were women, and 19

prisoners were children under the age of 18.

Co-Prime Ministers Prince

Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen have earlier this month reportedly instructed the

Ministry of Justice to ensure that women and minor offenders are lodged in

separate detention facilities, and that those prisoners awaiting trial be

separated from those who have been tried.

 

Luy Chanpal of the Cambodian Defenders Association says officials with his

organization in the provinces have also reported that significant numbers of

prisoners are being held without trial, but no statistics are available.

Peter Condliffe of the UN Center for Human for Rights said: "The

Ministry of Justice cannot be expected to ensure proper standards in the

criminal justice system when it receives only 0.2 percent of the national

budget."

The delays in holding trials are exacerbated by a lack of

trained legal staff and resources. A press release issued by five Cambodian NGOs

on June 27 called for the creation of a Cambodian Bar with professionally

trained lawyers.

The statement said: "The shortage of lawyers has been a

major obstacle to rebuilding the country's legal system. Many persons accused of

crimes are tried without adequate legal representation."

The NGOs have

requested that during this transitional period Cambodians who have been trained

as defenders by the UN or NGOs be allowed to defend people in court. The

suggested length of the transitional period is five years.

The question

will be decided when the National Assembly considers a bill to set up a

Cambodian Bar Association which is reportedly being drafted.

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