After Detainee Deaths, Ministry to Discuss the Fate of Prey Speu

The Social Affairs Ministry will convene a meeting this week to discuss the fate of the notorious Pur Senchey Vocational Training Center, after a human rights group released a statement Tuesday calling for its closure following the deaths of two detainees there last month.

In the past month, a mentally ill man drowned in a small pond on the premises of the Pur Senchey center, commonly called Prey Speu, while another woman being held there died of unknown causes, according to a statement released by Licadho.

“The well-documented systemic abuse and criminal negligence that takes place within the Prey Speu center is directly responsible for the deaths of three people within the past eleven months, and yet it remains open,” Am Sam Ath, technical coordinator for Licadho, is quoted as saying in the statement.

“When detainees get sick, the center does not have doctors or hospital equipment to treat them,” Mr. Sam Ath said by telephone. “The center does not have trucks to bring them to the hospital when they get seriously ill.”

Toch Channy, a spokesman for the Social Affairs Ministry, said the ministry would hold a meeting on Thursday to discuss the situation of homeless people in the city, and the Prey Speu center in particular.

“The ministry will hold a meeting about homeless people, including the Prey Speu center problem too,” Mr. Channy said.

“At the meeting on November 5, I will push to work fast on this problem and the government will decide whether this center is a vocational training center or the temporary center for homeless people.”

Despite its name, the Pur Senchey Vocational Training Center does not offer job training, and is often used as a place to keep vagrants and mentally ill people after “street sweeps” of Phnom Penh. Workers at the center have long been accused of committing sexual and physical abuse against detainees.

Sebastien Marot, executive director of the NGO Friends International, which works to help reintegrate children detained at the center, said that the latest deaths appeared to be accidental, but that an urgent review of the center was in order nonetheless.

“From a report we have from people released from the center, the two deaths seemed to be accidental in nature,” Mr. Marot said, adding that without a proper investigation, the veracity of those claims could not be verified.

“The center should not operate the way it operates today,” he said.                         “It should be entirely reviewed and if they don’t review it, then it shouldn’t be operational as it stands.”

Sok Sokun, director of the Phnom Penh health department, said he sent a team of about four to five doctors to treat people staying at the center last week after the deaths occurred.

“Last Friday, we treated 130 people who were staying there,” Mr. Sokun said, adding that he had no information about the two deaths.

Van Ngat, acting director of the Pur Senchey center, could not be reached.

(Additional reporting by Meghan Tribe)

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