Ministry rejects report on abuses at center

In a statement yesterday, the Ministry of Social Affairs rejected a new Human Rights Watch report on the local sex industry, saying the report was “incorrect” and would “affect the progress” at a government center in Phnom Penh that was criticized by the rights group for alleged abuses of sex workers.

“The incorrect report affects the progress of the center, which provides services for homeless people and for beggars for the short term,” ministry spokesman Lim El Djurado said in a statement. “The center does not provide services for sex workers.”

Sex workers are sent by the Ministry of Social Affairs to NGOs, not the Prey Speu social affairs center in Dangkao district’s Choam Chao commune, the statement adds.

In a telephone interview, Mr El Djurado said Human Rights Watch might have been confused, as the center run by the Ministry of Social Affairs is not officially called “Prey Speu.”

But Mr El Djurado also said the ministry “will keep investigating further about the Prey Speu center.”

In its report released Tuesday, Human Rights Watch acknowledged that the government sent sex workers to NGOs, but also said at least 20 have been sent since last July to Prey Speu, which has long been a subject of criticism.

The report claimed both police and Ministry of Social Affairs officials abused sex workers, and that rights violations ranged from arbitrary detention to beatings, rape and theft.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, called yesterday for a government investigation into abuses.

“We stand by our findings that sex workers have been abused and involuntarily detained at Prey Speu Social Affairs Center–we have received reports of this as recently as last month,” he wrote in an e-mail. “We urge the government to launch an investigation into these abuses.”

Hagar Cambodia takes in sex workers referred by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Residential Operations Manager Sue Hanna said by telephone yesterday. Hagar offers “short-term and long-term care,” including counseling, on a voluntary basis, she said.


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