Roundups of the homeless, sex workers and suspected drug users continued this week, with Phnom Penh municipal authorities collecting some 60 people from the streets and temporarily sending them to a detention center Monday and Tuesday morning, officials said Tuesday.
Along with a local rights group, the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Tuesday criticized the sweeps, which have been used in the past but began again last week ahead of a two-day meeting of European Union and Asean ministers in Phnom Penh.
“Despite numerous interventions by the Office and meetings with relevant authorities, these sweeps, which are illegal, are continuing,” OHCHR Country Representative Christophe Peschoux wrote in an e-mail Tuesday.
“What is happening is that district police rounds up homeless people and take them to the Social Affairs centers, which in turn have to release them, unless they wish to stay there voluntarily.
“We think that these practices in the name of beautification should cease. We would welcome an opportunity for police, the municipality and the social affairs department to jointly discuss the issue with NGOs and our Office to look for ways in which this situation can be addressed,” he wrote.
Sam Sovann, deputy governor of Prampi Makara district, said authorities in his district have collected people who beg and sleep along main thoroughfares, which he said disturbs public order. Although the resumption of sweeps was due in part to preparations for last week’s EU-Asean summit, he said, the detentions are part of a longstanding policy.
“I will continue to collect all homeless people for re-education,” he said. “Standing along main routes affects the nation’s prosperity.”
On Monday, 39 people from Prampi Makara district and nine from Chamkar Mon district were sent to the municipal social affairs department and from there taken to the Prey Speu social affairs center on the city’s outskirts. Seven from the Wat Phnom area in Daun Penh district being dropped off there the following day, said Muth Nang, chief of the department’s social welfare office.
The detainees were made to sign an agreement promising not to stay in or along parks or loiter at gas stations before being released from Prey Speu, she said, adding that those who were rounded up were allowed to leave the center the day they arrived.
“We don’t have the right to detain them,” Ms Nang said. “They can go home after making an agreement not to do the same bad action.”
The Prey Speu center, located in the outlying Dangkao district of the capital, has been heavily criticized in the past by local rights workers for the alleged mistreatment of inmates.
“They’re taking people to Prey Speu, where alleged rapists and murderers are among the staff still working there,” said Jason Barber, consultant for Licadho.
He also said the detainees, who are never charged, aren’t offered any transportation back to central Phnom Penh after being released.
“It’s not solving any problems,” Mr Barber said of the roundups and detentions. “It’s just punishing people by taking them to the outskirts of Phnom Penh and dumping them, basically.”