Rights Workers Decry Gov’t Vagabond Campaign

A government campaign to clear the homeless from the streets and hold them at centers for vocational training constitutes a violation of a UN human rights convention and the Constitution, several rights work­ers said Wednesday.

The newly formed National Com­mittee for Resolving the Vag­a­bond Issue, and parallel efforts al­ready un­derway within Phnom Penh mu­nicipality, allow officials to remove beg­gars and street-dwel­lers to the centers for mandatory training.

It is not against the law to beg, making involuntary detentions illegal, rights workers said.

“[Begging] is not a crime—they have the right to ask for something for their living. If they want to help street people, they have to collect them by asking their permission,” said Thav Kimsan, child rights co­or­dinator with local rights group Lica­dho.

Suong Soksophea, communications officer for Friends-Inter­na­tional, who has obtained a copy of the subdecree approving the vaga­bond committee, applauded the idea of helping the homeless, but said the document raised multiple concerns.

“There are some legal issues, as some articles seem to contradict the Constitution and the UN Con­ven­tion on the Rights of Children,” she said. “The subdecree seemed to indicate that people may be forced into rehabilitation against their will.”

She also questioned how the gov­ernment will fund the project.

Thav Kimsan expressed concerns that the centers may not be hu­mane.

“In 2004, there was a government round-up of mainly street people, to place them in a center…. There were many violations—they did not have enough food and they were beaten by guards,” he said.

Haul Phal, deputy director of the Ministry of Social Affairs’ social welfare department, downplayed criticism.

“We only address our people’s poverty and we just invite them to the center voluntarily but inevitably it is forced sometimes,” he said.

He compared, however, the government’s methods favorably with those applied by unnamed organizations.

“We are not detaining them in a center like a slave, not like some NGOs where they transport children from one place to another in trucks surrounded by tin bars,” he said.



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