Detainees and prisoners continue to be administered electric shocks, beaten unconscious and even smothered by plastic bags, with 49 new allegations of torture or abuse at the hands of authorities this year, according to rights group Licadho, which says in a report released Wednesday that the government has been ineffective in stopping the trend.
“In the first four months of 2014 alone, Licadho received 49 allegations of torture or ill-treatment during arrest or in police custody,” the report says.
“In 2014, detainees were slapped, kicked in the ribs and chest, and beaten on the head and torso with sticks and electro-shock batons. Police officers stamped on detainees’ hands and, in one case, covered a man’s head with a plastic bag whilst he was lying on the floor, stamped on his body and kicked him repeatedly in the ribs,” it says.
The rights group has collected more than 500 detailed testimonies of people who have experienced or witnessed torture at the hands of officials in police stations and prisons around the country since 2008, with about 90 percent of cases occurring with victims in police custody.
In its report, timed to coincide with International Day Against Torture today, Licadho says despite Cambodia having ratified a protocol to stamp out torture, no concrete actions have been taken by the government to that end.
“Licadho’s findings reveal that there has been no palpable change in the type, frequency and severity of abuse reported in recent years,” the report says. “Objects used during beatings included guns, sticks, iron rods, stun batons and electric cables.
“One of the primary purposes of abuse continued to be the forced extraction of confessions or money.”
The report includes several firsthand accounts of abuse and says that men, women, juveniles and people with mental health issues have been targeted. In one case, a woman who was two months pregnant was threatened with death, Licadho says.
One victim, speaking of his experiences at a Phnom Penh police station in 2013, describes being punched, slapped and kicked by a number of different police officials over a five-day period, the violence ending only when he confessed in order to make it stop.
At an unnamed provincial police station in 2012, a detainee says he was tortured with electric shocks until unconscious, and then beaten with a wrench. He too confessed, but insists that he did not commit the crime.
Taken together, the testimonies show that despite Cambodia’s 2007 ratification of the Optional Protocol to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, the practice is still very much alive.
In December, the U.N.’s Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT) spent five days visiting Cambodian prisons, detentions centers and police stations.
While their findings were given confidentially to the government, the SPT’s chairperson, Malcolm Evans, said the government must fulfill its international obligation to establish an independent anti-torture body.
Currently, Interior Minister Sar Kheng heads up a government-staffed interim committee, which Mr. Evans said is falling short of international standards
In the 18 prisons it monitors, Licadho says that physical abuse at the hands of prison guards has been reported at 13, but notes that its prison monitoring has been increasingly restricted.
Interior Ministry spokesman General Khieu Sopheak said the government has been taking action against torture and, according to its own data, has seen a decrease in the number of cases year on year.
“[Licadho] should mention the place and the police stations in which it occurred in order for us to investigate,” he said. “If they say ‘blah blah,’ we could not correct the situation and make the number go down.”
“We have been of the understanding that torture has been decreasing from year to year… we receive complaints from the victims,” he said.
- Sopheak added that the Ministry of Interior “welcomes any report that has accurate reporting in it—the who, what, when and where.”
Kuy Bunsorn, director-general of the Interior Ministry’s general department of prisons, said there have been no cases of torture in any of the country’s prisons “from the past up to now.”
“We have sub-national level and national level mechanism to curb inhumane acts and torture inside prisons, and in particular, we have multiple institutions working to combat inhumane acts and torture,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren)