Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Torture, corruption commonplace in prison

Torture, corruption commonplace in prison

Torture, corruption commonplace in prison

torture.jpg
torture.jpg

Torture, chronic overcrowding and bribery continue to plague Cambodia's prisons

despite some advances in basic health and sanitation services, say local human

rights groups.

Despite difficult circumstances, inmates at Kandal provincial prison sleep away their time. According to Licadho, nearly one in three have been tortured.

Licadho, which monitors 18 of the county's 25 prisons,

said prison conditions represent one of the most pressing human rights concerns

in the kingdom and urged the government to address the problems within its

jails.

"You can tell about the human rights situation in a country by

the way it treats its prisoners," said Naly Pilorge, director of

Licadho.

Licadho received four reports of torture in prisons during

January, but warned that the real situation is difficult to determine because

interviews with prisoners are conducted near guards.

Last year, Licadho

received 41 reports of torture inside correctional centers, an increase from 24

cases in 2003.

Adhoc, which also monitors human rights, investigated 354

suspects in detention (both police custody and prison) last year and found that

31 percent had been tortured, mostly by beatings. Adhoc found that two thirds of

those tortured by beating were shackled at the time.

This can lead to

serious mental trauma as well as physical injury, said Chan Soveth, program

officer for Adhoc's monitoring section.

"Sometimes they forget everything

- this is from the threat, the torture [and] not enough [medical] treatment,"

said Soveth.

In 2004, there were 58 deaths in prisons, with 22 of them

occurring at the men's correctional center (CC1), also known as Prey Sar,

according to statistics from Licadho.

Most deaths were caused by disease,

with HIV often likely to be an undiagnosed factor. Licadho said that some deaths

could probably be avoided with better hygeine, adequate food and water, and

proper medical attention.

Corruption remains rampant inside prisons, with

inmates and their families being forced to pay bribes for what should be

provided free or paying for special privileges and services, stated reports from

both Licadho and Adhoc.

Family members of prisoners often have to pay at

every checkpoint as they enter the facility to visit their relative. Interviews

done by Licadho at CC1 showed that a well-established system exists for graft,

with prices ranging from 2,000 to 3,000 riel or a pack of cigarettes at the

first checkpoint to 5,000 riel demanded in order fill out the official form at

the administration building. Prison guards also took portions of food that

families had brought for inmates.

Prisoners even had to pay for

transportation to court for their own trial in many prisons, with rates set at

$20 for men at CC1 and $5 for minors at CC2. Those who didn't pay risked being

detained longer without trial.

Extra recreational time, visits from a

doctor and basic items like soap all required bribes at many prisons, said

Pilorge.

Malnutrition was a major contributor to other health issues,

with the government's allocation of 1,000 riel per person each day for food and

cooking materials woefully inadequate, said the human rights

groups.

"This amount was approved in 1993 and since then it has never

been increased in proportion to the price of food in the markets," stated

Adhoc's Human Rights Situation Report 2004, released last month.

The

incidence of beriberi - a disease caused by a prolonged deficiency in vitamin B

- effects around seven percent of the prison population. Symptoms include

weakness and paralysis, and when combined with cardiac problems can bring on

fatal heart attacks.

Scabies, a parasitic skin disease, is still found

among around seven percent of inmates, but this figure has dropped markedly

since Licadho began training prisoners and authorities in simple sanitation such

as regularly cleaning cells and clothes.

Overcrowding exacerbates all

other problems within prisons, said the human rights groups. One of the worst

examples was in Kampong Thom, where a prison built in 1996 to accommodate 40

inmates was crammed with 137 people in December 2004.

As of January,

there were 6,092 adults in prison, including 341 females, and 318 juveniles

under the age of 18. Excessive pre-trial detention means that approximately a

third of Cambodia's prison population have yet to be convicted of a crime.

Samkol Sokun, director of the Prisons Department at the Ministry of

Interior, was asked to comment on the human rights abuses, but hung up his phone

after saying: "I do not know any Licadho [or] Adhoc concerns."

Human

rights monitors are concerned about the jail in Siem Reap after Prison Director

Chhen Savuth barred workers from visiting the 603 people in custody there

despite authorization from the MoI.

Licadho has urged the government to

address the human rights and health situation within the correctional

facsilities, stressing the need for a bigger prisons budget, an increased daily

ration for prisoners and better access to health workers.

The Prisons

Department recently appointed 33 new health care workers for Cambodia's prisons

and funded 11 universities to train nurses who will work in correctional

centers.

Licado, however, said that health care remained well short of

minimum standards set out in Cambodian and international law.

As a

member of the United Nations, Cambodia is obliged to adhere to the 'Standard

Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners' adopted in 1955. This obligation

is written into Article 8 of Cambodia's criminal law.

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