Lawmaker Calls on UN to Help Prey Speu Detainees Get Home

Following an inspection of Phnom Penh’s Pur Senchey Vocational Training Center on Tuesday, opposition lawmaker Ke Sovannaroth on Wednesday said she was seeking the U.N.’s help in transporting home dozens of detainees at the notorious holding facility who begged to be set free during her visit.

“I think that if we work with the U.N., it will be faster than working with the Phnom Penh social affairs department, because the social affairs department would need to complete more documents” to release and transport the detainees, Ms. Sovannaroth said.

On Tuesday afternoon, when CNRP and CPP lawmakers on the National Assembly’s health commission toured the center, better known as Prey Speu, many of its nearly 100 charges pleaded for their freedom. Ms. Sovannaroth, who chairs the commission, promised them that she would contact the U.N. the next morning.

According to detainees and rights groups, physical and sexual abuse is rife at Prey Speu, while health and sanitation standards are abysmal. Vocational training is non-existent.

Reached Wednesday, Ms. Sovannaroth said she had been unable to reach her contact at the U.N., whom she did not identify.

She said she did speak to the director of the municipal social affairs department, Sorn Sophal, who told her that he was in the process of arranging transportation for some detainees so they could return to their home provinces.

Contacted by a reporter, Mr. Sophal claimed that all of the center’s residents who had wanted to go home had already been set free.

“I allowed them to leave already,” he said. “I do not know how many people left. I don’t know how many people remain there, because I did not count them.”

Wan-Hea Lee, country representative of the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said in an email Wednesday that her office had not been contacted by Ms. Sovannaroth, but would assist in helping the detainees return home if asked.

“OHCHR regularly undertakes visits to Prey Speu and we are always ready to help those who wish to leave to do so,” she said, adding that the situation at Prey Speu and similar detention centers continued to be a concern.

“The needs remain dire, not least regarding the medical, food and sanitation needs of the persons rounded up and detained at the centers,” Ms. Lee said, calling for a “review of the practice of rounding up and holding persons who have committed no crime other than to look poor and homeless.”

(Additional reporting by Alex Consiglio)

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