Police Official Retracts Comments on Torture

A top Cambodian police official reversed his position and de­nounced torture in a letter Friday to the UN special representative for human rights after twice de­fending the use of strong-armed interrogation tactics last week.

Responding to vigorous criticism from UN Special Represen­tative Peter Leuprecht and local human rights groups, Sau Phan, deputy director-general of the National Police, said the furor over comments that torture is some­times necessary to make suspects confess was rooted in “a misunderstanding.” In English, he wrote in the letter that he does not “have any intention in anyway to condone torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment to the suspects or to any persons.”

“Torture is illegal, and any persons who commit such acts should be held responsible,” he wro­te.

The statement was an about-face from his assertion June 27 that violence is sometimes necessary to get suspects to tell the truth and reveal their accomplices.

“Sometimes the police just punch them and then they an­swer all questions,” he said.

When confronted with criticism, including a letter from Leuprecht saying Sau Phan should retract his remarks or resign, Sau Phan stood by his earlier comments and accused hu­man rights groups of being pro-crime.

“I have told police not to torture suspects but, only when it is necessary, police have to do it be­cause they want to arrest other suspects immediately in order to stop their activities.”

Asked again Sunday, he reiterated what he said in his letter to Leuprecht and added, “Any torture is wrong. Even punching is wrong. Even slightly punching is wrong.”

His letter has been forwarded to Peter Leuprecht, said Saku Akmeemana, spokeswoman for the UN Office of the High Com­missioner for Human Rights in Cambodia.

“We welcome the retraction,” she said.

Kek Galabru, president of the human rights group Licadho, also praised the retraction Sun­day as a step in the right direction. Licadho and other human rights groups have said that torture of suspects by police is widespread, not only to extract confessions but also as punishment and to extort money.

“We want to hear they will not allow any torture,” she said, “and that they are going to prosecute police who torture.”

The last time a policeman served prison time for torture was in 1995, when a Prey Veng policeman served a four-month sentence for beating a 13-year-old boy who died during interrogation, she said.

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