Gov’t Bodies at Odds Over Anti-Torture Mechanism

The government has pledged to push ahead with efforts to form a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) against torture, but has shot down a request from its own Human Rights Committee to exclude prison officials from being members of relevant bodies.

In letters obtained on Monday, Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Mak Sambath, chairman of the Human Rights Committee, disagreed over whether prison officials should oversee efforts to eliminate torture, which rights groups say is rife in the country’s jails.

In a letter to Mr. Kheng on August 20, Mr. Sambath requested that the government push ahead with a royal decree establishing the NPM, as requested by the U.N.’s Human Rights Council.

“Prepare the composition to fulfill the role and duty and do not include relevant authorities in charge of managing prisons and detention centers to participate in order to avoid criticism from local and international quarters,” the letter said.

In his response the next day, Mr. Kheng agreed to arrange the decree, but said he would not exclude prison officials from the bodies meant to ensure that Cambodia meets its international obligations to prevent torture.

“Cambodia is not the first country among 77 countries that have a National Preventive Mechanism with members who are relevant authorities managing prisons and detention centers,” Mr. Kheng wrote, noting that France’s committee included prison officials.

However, Andrea Giorgetta, Asia director for the International Federation for Human Rights, said it was “bizarre” that Mr. Kheng would assign prison officials to police prisons.

“If prison authorities were to be appointed to the National Preventive Mechanism, the body’s independence would be completely compromised,” he said via email.

“It’s bizarre that the Interior Minister would consider appointing prison officials to the National Preventive Mechanism, in light of the frequent and credible allegations of torture committed by prison authorities across Cambodia.”

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