The Minister of Interior has ordered senior officials to conduct unannounced spot checks of the Kingdom’s detention centres in an effort to ensure that inmates are not receiving ill treatment behind bars.
The order was given in a letter from Interior Minister Sar Kheng dated August 7, and sent to immigration, rehabilitation and other detention centres nationwide.
“In accordance with the recommendations and additional protocols of the United Nations to prevent torture, cruel violence, inhumane acts, abuse or undue punishment, to which Cambodia is a state party, the ministry will order task force members and secretary of state members to prevent undue punishment, inspect, check and interview [at prisons] nationally, without informing them beforehand,” the letter says.
The same letter orders those in charge of prisons and detention centres to facilitate the work of visiting national inspectors.
Under the UN’s Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, Cambodia – a signatory to the protocol – is obliged to form an independent national mechanism for monitoring the treatment of its prisoners, but the country failed to live up that standard for years, despite at least one rebuke from the UN, in 2011.
The UN conducted its own spot checks of Cambodia’s prisons in 2013, though the findings were kept confidential.
In a January 2015 report, the rights group Licadho said that inhumane conditions in prisons are the rule rather than the exception, and that inmates still report suffering violence at the hands of authorities.
“Some of them were pushed hard against the wall; tools used for beatings are rifles, sticks, iron bars, batons, walkie-talkies, handcuffs, chains, ropes, wires, bricks, and belts,” the report says.
Am Sam Ath, senior technical manager for Licadho, said he welcomed the ministry’s measures, and that his organisation was aware of abuses still taking place within Cambodian places of detention, offering the notorious Prey Speu Social Affairs Centre as an example.
“While the inspections, checks and investigations are taking place, if a prison, correctional centre or any other place mistreats the prisoners or detainees, the ministry must take legal measures so that mistreatment will be prevented,” he said.
“But if we spot it and then we do nothing, I think that it is a waste of national funds and time.”
Numerous ministry and prison officials – including ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak, Department of Prisons director Kuy Bunsorn, Prey Sar prison director Klot Dara and Prey Speu director Van Ngart – could not be reached for comment yesterday.