Torture Commonplace, Rights Group Says

The Khmer Rouge may be mostly gone, but torture—one of the regime’s hallmarks—continues to flourish today in Cambo­dia, according to a report by the human rights group Licadho.

“Less than Human: Torture in Cambodia’’ is the title of a 149-page report prepared by Licad­ho’s Project Against Torture, and released today to mark UN International Day in Support of Torture Victims.

Licadho researchers conclude that physical and mental torture remains endemic in Cambodia—and will remain so until the legal system begins to punish those who practice it.

“Torture is inflicted on men, women and children in Cambo­dia, and many people receive this treatment at the hands of those who are supposed to protect society: police officers, soldiers, government bodyguards and others in positions of authority,’’ the report states.

People do it because they know they’ll get away with it, researchers conclude.

Khieu Kanharith, a government spokesman, said Sunday he had not yet seen the report and could not comment on it.

Despite plenty of laws against torture, Licadho researchers found one in four prison inmates suffers physical abuse. Of 567 cases of mistreatment among prison inmates, 75 percent described the abuse as “serious.’’

Researchers found only one case of punishment: a military police officer who spent four months in prison after a teenage boy was beaten to death in custody.

The researchers concluded that torture is by no means limited to inmates, however. They documented cases on military bases and in brothels, police stations and private homes, including a number of politically motivated attacks.

The report cites the following as examples of torture to have occurred in the past three years:

“Police officers smash an iron bar over the head of a 15-year-old boy, to get him to confess to stealing; a woman is whipped with wire, beaten with a stick and nearly suffocated with a plastic bag, at a police station;

Prison guards beat a group of inmates with the handle of a hoe until they are bloody and bruised, and then confine them in a cell without adequate food, clothing, bedding or water for bathing for more than two weeks.”

These are just a handful of torture cases in Cambodia in the past three years, and they are by no means the worst, according to the report. “The victims have two things in common—they were tortured, and their torturers were not brought to justice.’’

The report also notes that accounts of physical suffering in Cambodia stretch as far back as the Angkorean era, as evidenced by graphic depictions in temple bas-reliefs and a 13th century eyewitness account of criminals having limbs amputated amputation or enduring more severe forms of punishment.

The report includes harrowing first-person accounts of torture, from the techniques practiced at the notorious Tuol Sleng S-21 detention center through  incidents that occurred during the Vietnamese occupation down to the present day.

Little seems to change from one regime to the next, and given the extent of abuse over the past 30 years, the report says it is fair to say that most people in the country have been damaged in some way by the ongoing brutality.

The report concludes by noting that Cambodia, in the midst of rewriting its criminal procedure and penal laws, has a rare opportunity to strengthen sanctions against torture. “Any failure to do so will amount to the perpetuation of official complicity in torture,’’ the report states.

Given the zeal with which police beat suspects to elicit confessions, the report says, that would be a good place to start. “Licadho advocates a complete ban on the admissibility in criminal trials of confessions given to police,’’ the report concludes.







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