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‘Slow process causes overcrowding’

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Prisoners sit in the courtyard of Prey Sar prison. Vireak Mai

‘Slow process causes overcrowding’

On Tuesday, Minister of the Interior Sar Kheng said slow judicial procedures and an ongoing crackdown on drugs are causing an increase in inmates in Cambodian prisons, resulting in serious concerns over prisoner welfare.

His remarks were made at a workshop at Raffles Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh discussing the roles and duties of the National Committee Against Torture, as well as the enforcement of the international human rights standards.

Sar Kheng said that the number of inmates in Cambodian prisons has increased steadily in recent years, with no sign of abating.

Currently, 28 prisons across Cambodia house more than 30,000 inmates, while Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar currently holds 7,000 prisoners but is designed to hold only 2,000. In addition, there are 20,000 inmates in Cambodian prisons waiting to go through judicial procedures.

On top of slow judicial procedures, Sar Kheng cited Cambodia’s ongoing crackdown on drugs as a contributing factor in the increase of inmate numbers.

“These two big challenges are the main factors causing the prisons to be overcrowded, which hinders our efforts to improve their welfare and provide necessary services at prisons throughout the Kingdom,” he said.

“Moreover, it hinders the Royal Government’s efforts to fully enforce the UN Convention Against Torture.”

Sar Kheng said that to improve the welfare situation for inmates and comply with the UN Convention against Torture, the government is working to expand and improve facilities in the country’s prisons, while the Ministry of Interior is also considering mechanisms to speed up judicial procedures.

“The courts and government institutions will work together on this issue for the greater social good. We will examine the backlog of 20,000 inmates and see what is hindering judicial procedures,” he said.

Deputy director-general of the Interior Ministry’s General Prison Department Be Tea Leng said the prison department had restored old prisons to ease overcrowding, as well as having built eight buildings at Phnom Kravanh district’s Correctional Center 4 accommodating roughly 1,400 inmates. He added that his department was awaiting further funds to complete the construction of an additional eight buildings at Correctional Center 4.

“We’ve finished one phase, and we’re going to build another eight buildings . . . we will then take inmates from other overcrowded prisons,” he said.

On November 27, the Ministry established a working group to speed up judicial procedures in an attempt to address the overcrowding. The directive named Secretary of State at the Ministry of Interior Sork Setha as head of the task force.

Earlier in November, local NGO Licadho released a report detailing how the underuse of bail had resulted in excessively long periods of pre-trial detention and subsequent overcrowding, negatively impacting detainee’s families and communities.

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