The UN in Cambodia will provide material to Preah Sihanouk provincial prison to help prevent Covid-19 transmission after 34 cases were found among detainees on May 8.

The UN resident coordinator in Cambodia, Pauline Tamesis, told The Post on May 19 that the UN has engaged with prison authorities and humanitarian partners to assess the situation. They will provide support for the affected inmates and preparedness to prevent and contain the disease in the prison.

“In particular, the UN in Cambodia will donate PPE [personal protective equipment] clothing like plastic aprons, masks, gloves, rapid test kits and vitamins to the affected prison population and prison staff as requested by the general department of prisons,” she said.

Tamesis said that since the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak in Cambodia early last year, her organisation has been advocating for policy and legal changes, in particular calling for mass releases of prisoners and the use of alternatives to detention – especially for low-level offenders and vulnerable prisoners.

The advice came with the provision of technical and material support for the government to address the impact of the virus on vulnerable populations, including prisoners and other people deprived of their liberty to ensure the government response complies with international human rights obligations, she said.

The UN in Cambodia encouraged prison and health authorities to resume regular discussions through the “Inter-Ministerial Working Group on Health in Prisons”, created by the ministries of Interior and Health, to ensure adequate communication, coordination and implementation of procedures and plans.

“The United Nations stands ready to provide technical assistance on the strengthening of prison conditions and the treatment of prisoners, and will continue to emphasise the need for medium-to-longer term solutions to overcrowding in prisons, including the more systematic use of alternatives to detention,” she said.

General Department of Prisons spokesman Nuth Savna said on May 19 that after 34 infections were detected on May 8, no new Covid-19 cases among detainees were found as of May 19. But they will have to undergo the second test on May 23.

“The UN responded to us saying that they will help us. We sent them a list of necessary material and the list of places that we will distribute to. The material could arrive next week,” he said.

With regard to mass releases or the use of alternatives to detention to avoid overcrowding in prisons, Ministry of Justice spokesperson Chin Malin said Cambodia could not just free prisoners.

He noted however that the ministry had instead launched a campaign to clear the backlog of court cases in a fair process.