Licadho: 96 Tortured So Far in 2006

Speaking on the UN’s International Day in Support of Torture Victims and Survivors, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s adviser Om Yentieng accused NGOs of confusing the public with false allegations of police brutality, while local rights group Licadho reported 96 detainees tortured so far this year.

Om Yentieng, who is president of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, said Monday that it was against Cambodian government policy for police to extract confessions under torture.

“[NGOs] intend to confuse people about things the government does correctly,” he said.

Om Yentieng also called on rights groups to share their information with the government so that perpetrators can be brought to justice. “If they really want to eliminate torture they should cooperate with the government,” he said.

Of the 96 people who have reported being tortured from January to May, 78 have been tortured while in police custody, Licadho said. The remaining 18 were all tortured in prison.

Licadho annually interviews thousands of detainees in 18 of Cambodia’s 24 prisons, said Jason Barber, a consultant to Licadho’s Project Against Torture.

Kicking, punching and pistol-whipping are the most common methods but reported techniques also include electric shocks, suffocation, caning and whipping with wire, Barber added.

Noting that most instances of torture occurred at the hands of police, Barber said: “It’s a fairly standard investigative technique.”

In prison, torture appeared mainly to be used to maintain order, he said.

“Torture in prisons seems to be used as punishment for violations, primarily for trying to escape,” Barber said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the ministry has received no complaint of torture so far this year.

“Police use non-violent means of interrogation,” he said, adding that NGOs have made dire claims in order to solicit funding.

Barber said confessions extracted under torture were commonly accepted in court, but that in recent years the organization had counted only a handful of prosecutions for torture.

The last criminal sanction for torture by police officials occurred in 2002, when three policemen in Svay Rieng province received 3-month suspended sentences for assaulting two high-school students, he said.

The Asian Human Rights Commission Monday issued a statement calling for legislation to be introduced that would require interrogating police officers to be brought in front of three judicial officers if the suspect claims to have been tortured to make confessions.

“If the claim of torture is proven, the case should be dismissed,” the commission said.

Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana said his ministry could not act on allegations of torture without sufficient evidence, which he called on Licadho to provide by naming torture victims.   “If there isn’t sufficient evidence, what can I do?” he said.

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