Cambodia Criticized for Torture, Rights Record

A UN committee trounced Cambodia over its lackluster human rights record and numerous allegations of police torture in a report issued Monday during the 13th session of the UN Com­mittee Against Torture in Geneva.

However, the committee, which began meeting April 28 to review seven countries’ efforts at implementing the Convention Against Torture, concluded its review of Cambodia only with a “provisional” report.

The group of human rights experts expected a Cambodian government delegation to appear in Geneva to discuss and defend its report on efforts to realize the tenets of the convention, which was signed in 1992. But the Cambodians were a no-show.

“The committee’s reactions to the initial report of Cambodia were provisional because—as the committee noted with regret—a government delegation had not been present to introduce the report and to answer questions from committee experts,” according to a UN statement issued Mon­day in Geneva.

Khin Cheam, first secretary of the Cambodian mission to the UN in Geneva, told the committee two weeks ago that Phnom Penh was too burdened with national election preparations and lacked the money to dispatch a delegation, according to a UN statement in April.

That wasn’t the case at all, said Om Yentieng, head of the government’s Human Rights Com­mittee.

Cambodian officials felt their permanent ambassador to Gen­eva, Sous Samet, could field questions raised by the committee, he said this week.

“So there was no need to send another delegation. Before, we did not have our representative there, so we sent our delegation with the UN human rights sponsor,” he said.

Since no government delegation was present, the committee sent a list of queries to Phnom Penh attached with an Aug 31 deadline for answers.

Om Yentieng said he has yet to see any questions from Geneva or any of the group’s recommendations.

Cambodia was congratulated by the committee for its “willingness to continue undertaking legal reforms to fulfill its international obligation in the field of human rights.” But the praise ended there.

The review of Cambodia resulted in a list of concerns about torture as well as recommendations on how to improve its human rights records.

The UN committee expressed concern “over numerous, ongoing and consistent allegations of acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment committed by law enforcement personnel in police stations and prisons,” according to Monday’s statement.

It went on to state that the committee was troubled over “widespread corruption among public officials in the criminal justice system…the importance given to the confession in criminal proceedings…[and] the unwarranted protraction of the pre-trial period during which detainees were more likely to be subjected to torture and other ill-treatment.”

Among the committee’s recommendations were “that Cambodia incorporate into its domestic law the definition of torture set out in article one of the Convention [Against Tor­ture]…that Cambo­dia take effective measures to establish and ensure a fully independent and professional judiciary …and that it establish an independent body competent to deal with complaints against the police and other law enforcement personnel.”

In addition to its unanswered questions, the committee is also seeking information on the number of people held in prison and the types of cases in which police are accused of torture.

The conference ends on May 16. Its comments on Cam­bodia are available online at www. unog.ch/news.

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