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UN to review detention sites

Inmates are watched over by guards while they sit in the courtyard of Prey Sar prison in 2009
Inmates are watched over by guards while they sit in the courtyard of Prey Sar prison in 2009. Heng Chivoan

UN to review detention sites

Some four years after its first visit in 2009 – and one day after the release of a scathing report detailing torture in Cambodia’s drug detention centres – the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) will spot-check the Kingdom’s detention facilities on their compliance with a UN anti-torture protocol.

According to SPT human rights officer Yulia Babuzhina, the SPT over the next four days will make unannounced visits to a number of places of detention – prisons, police stations, immigration detention centres and drug detention centres – to assess to what extent Cambodia implemented the recommendations from its 2009 assessment of torture in the Kingdom.

“The Kingdom of Cambodia has failed to make a reply to the 2009 report, and that is one of the reasons they are coming back,” Babuzhina said, noting that signatories to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT), like Cambodia, are expected to make such replies.

Under OPCAT, Cambodia was also obliged to create an independent National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) to conduct its own spot-checks of detention facilities, something it failed to do.

Though the SPT’s reports and recommendations are confidential, the UN Committee against Torture in 2011 publicly “noted with concern that the inter-governmental committee designated as NPM did not comply with the OPCAT requirements, especially regarding independence and civil society participation”.

And while the SPT’s agenda this year is also confidential, Babuzhina said, “I can tell you that the SPT has read the newly released Human Rights Watch report, and we have received a lot of information from all types of source on these issues”.

The HRW report, released yesterday, maintained that “torture and other ill-treatment in [Cambodia’s drug detention] centers are common” and listed a host of abuses from beatings to sexual assault.

Despite Cambodia’s non-compliant NPM and the allegations contained in the HRW report, prominent lawyer and Cambodian Defenders Project head Sok Sam Oeun said yesterday that torture in the Kingdom was diminished, though still present.

“Physical torture has been reduced, but mental torture is still used,” he said. “Sometimes they try to interrogate [them] too late and too long, so that they can try to [apply] psychological pressure.”

Kuy Bunsorn, director-general of the General Department of Prisons, said he met with the SPT delegation yesterday, and would again on Thursday, and maintained that Cambodia’s prisons had “updated and developed a lot” since 2009.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA

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