Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch call on the Cambodian government to go further than its stated plan to tackle prison overcrowding and related human rights abuses prevalent in the country’s justice system.
On 18 May 2020, recently appointed Minister of Justice Koeut Rith announced a plan to address backlogs in Cambodia’s criminal justice system, including through the promotion of non-custodial alternatives to pre-trial detention and allowing for suspended prison sentences in certain misdemeanor offences. On 27 May, Interior Minister Sar Kheng announced a parallel campaign to reduce prison overcrowding, citing human rights concerns and risks related to COVID-19 transmission, under which up to 10,000 prisoners imprisoned for minor offences could be released.
While these proposals could significantly alleviate alarming prison overcrowding and improve conditions of detention for persons deprived of their liberty, their success will ultimately depend on how they are implemented. Moreover, reforms to the criminal justice system should be deepened and instituted as permanent, including through the review and amendment of the Law on Drug Control, which is a major contributor to prison overcrowding and related human rights abuses.
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