At UN, Cambodian Delegation Rejects Claims of Prison Abuses

During the second day of questioning from U.N. human rights experts in Geneva, Cambodian officials continued to take a combative and dismissive approach to inquiries regarding the government’s adherence to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Wrapping up a two-day session that focused largely on abuses within the country’s prison system—with Cambodian officials mostly denying that any problems existed—Human Rights Committee chairman Fabian Omar Salvioli lamented the lack of progress.

“When the state fails to provide us with that information that we request or doesn’t provide detailed information, then the state is wasting an opportunity,” Mr. Omar Salvioli said in his closing remarks.

Earlier in Wednesday’s session, the Cambodian delegation faced scrutiny over issues including forced confessions, the right to an attorney and the right of incarcerated citizens to vote.

Responding to concerns over a lack of lawyers for poor citizens arrested outside of Phnom Penh, Ith Rady, a Justice Ministry undersecretary of state, acknowledged the problem.

“We have lawyers that work in private organizations for profits, they charge a fee,” he said. “People who need lawyer services are in far away provinces.”

Anja Seibert-Fohr, a member of the U.N.-selected committee, said the problem necessitated a solution.

“I appreciate the frank answers provided by state party that there are not enough lawyers in the country, particularly in the remote provinces,” she said. “But the answer also suggests that it   is a problem for the bar association to resolve.”

Ms. Seibert-Fohr continued her questioning, asking what was being done to prevent forced confessions by suspected criminals.

“What are the steps taken to prevent confessions obtained by force?” she asked. “Provide us with number of prosecutions against officials accused of extracting confessions by force.”

But despite annual reports by Cambodian rights group Licadho detailing systemic abuse and torture within prisons in the country, Cambodia’s delegation to the U.N. was defiant.

“There has never been any concrete evidence in regard to torture,” Mr. Rady said.

During Tuesday’s session, prisons were also a central issue, with the U.N.’s committee raising issues such as overcrowding, children growing up behind bars, the abuse of pretrial detention and widespread corruption within jails.

Mak Sambath, president of Cambodia’s Human Rights Committee, dismissed the concerns and said that if the claims were true, few Cambodians would support the CPP government.

“I don’t know how you receive information, and from where, regarding the prison systems in Cambodia” Mr. Sambath said.

“I believe the comments made by committee members does not reflect the actual situation of Cambodia,” he added. “If this kind of situation exists, people would not vote for the government.”

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