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Silence on torture report

Silence on torture report

Government officials declined to be grilled by the UN's Committee against Torture

when a Cambodian government report on the subject was discussed in Geneva on April

29.

The committee's chairman, Peter Thomas Burns, said it was the first time the body

had considered a report without a government delegation present to answer questions.

That job should have fallen to the head of the National Human Rights Committee, Om

Yentieng. However Khin Cheam, the country's first secretary to the UN mission in

Geneva, told the committee that financial constraints had prevented a government

delegation from attending.

At the time Om Yentieng was a short flight away in London. The British Embassy paid

for his flight there on April 27, where he was engaged in bilateral talks on human

rights and judicial reform with the UK government and human rights groups, including

Amnesty International. He also attended his daughter's wedding in the UK.

A spokesman for the British Embassy in Phnom Penh said the office "didn't offer

and was not asked" to pay for Yentieng's Geneva flight.

The UN committee posed a series of questions to Khin Cheam, who undertook to forward

them to Phnom Penh. Among those was a request for more information about Tem Seng,

known as the 'Battambang Barbecuer' for his role in torturing prisoners in that town's

jail. Seng has reportedly returned to work at the prison in a senior capacity.

Committee member Dr Ole Vedel Rasmussen from Denmark, said it was "extremely

worrying" if Tem Seng was still employed at the prison.

A UN press release noted that the committee sought answers on the "independence

of the Cambodian judiciary and on reports that police maltreatment was widespread

under a judiciary system that placed heavy emphasis on confessions".

The Cambodian government report outlined "numerous steps taken" to implement

the Convention against Torture, including the outlawing of torture under the Constitution.

But the report did concede that "some accused persons or suspects have been

tortured by the competent authorities during interrogation. These acts happened secretly

and were difficult to prosecute."

Burns said the heavy emphasis on confessions "could incline the police not to

investigate other evidence and incline the judge not to consider other evidence;

it could also explain widespread reports of endemic, brutal treatment by police of

members of the public and of detainees".

Cambodia signed the Convention against Torture in 1992 and must submit periodic reports

to the committee on its efforts to put the convention into effect. The committee

will issue its conclusions on Cambodia's report on May 12.

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