Notorious Detention Center Has New Name, Same Symptoms

Phnom Penh’s notorious Pur Senchey Vocational Training Center—a government-run detention facility for vagrants, sex workers and drug users—has long drawn the ridicule of rights groups for offering no vocational training.

But now the center has a new name, according to Sorn Sophal, director of the municipal social affairs department. Henceforth, he said, it would be known as the Phnom Penh Social Affairs Center.

Members of the National Assembly's human rights commission tour Phnom Penh's Pur Senchey Vocational Training Center in December 2014. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Members of the National Assembly’s human rights commission tour Phnom Penh’s Pur Senchey Vocational Training Center in December 2014. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“The circular from the Ministry of Social Affairs to change the name was issued last week,” Mr. Sophal said, refusing to give the official reason for the name change but noting that little else would change at the center.

“The management of the center will be done as before,” he said, referring further questions to officials at the center.

Van Ngat, deputy director of the center—better known as Prey Speu—said the name change was aimed at fending off attacks from the facility’s critics, who have been calling for its closure for years over reports of sexual and physical abuse inside.

“We made this change because we don’t want NGOs to criticize the center,” Mr. Ngat said.

He added that conditions at the center—which he said was currently housing more than 160 “homeless, disabled and old people” rounded up since the start of the year, on top of more than 100 permanent residents—had improved since two detainees died late last year.

“Now it is better than before because we have access to clean water and enough electricity,” Mr. Ngat said. “And there are plans to build more bathrooms in the future.”

Additionally, medical personnel from a nearby hospital were now visiting detainees on a weekly basis for health checkups, he added.

“If they have a problem with their health, they will be sent to the Pochentong Referral Hospital,” he said.

Toch Channy, a spokesman for the Social Affairs Ministry, said he was not authorized to speak to the media and referred questions to his boss, Suong Menglong, who could not be reached.

“I can’t talk with reporters unless the chief spokesman lets me talk,” Channy said.

In an email, Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, derided the name change as superficial.

“Cosmetic changes like a name change or a new paint job don’t do anything to change the reality of a center whose entire history is synonymous with rights abuses,” Mr. Robertson said, describing Prey Speu as a “human rights disaster zone.”

“Beatings and abuse by guards and staff are systematic and pervasive and constitute torture,” he said.

“It should be shut down, and the buildings there bulldozed into the ground so that it cannot be re-opened under some new name or guise.”

(Additional reporting by Anthony Jensen)

Related Stories

Exit mobile version