UN Urges Government to Establish Independent Anti-Torture Committee

The U.N. has urged the government to establish an independent body to monitor the treatment of prisoners and detainees following a five-day visit to Cambodia by the U.N.’s subcommittee on the prevention of torture (SPT).

As a party to the optional protocol to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, Cambodia was obligated to establish an independent torture-monitoring body—known as a National Preventative Mechanism —within a year of ratifying the protocol in 2007. However, thus far it has created only an interim committee to prevent torture headed by Interior Minister Sar Kheng—an arrangement that the SPT says falls short of acceptable standards.

“Cambodia has now had several years to gain experience of what is needed, and the time has come for the country to fulfill its international commitments by establishing an independent National Preventive Mechanism,” said SPT chairperson Malcolm Evans in a statement at the end of the group’s mission to Cambodia, which ended Friday and saw the four-member team visit nine prisons, police stations and other places of detention.

The committee’s report on its five-day visit will be sent to the government, but will remain confidential unless the government chooses to release it.

Speaking Tuesday on the sidelines of a two-day workshop in Phnom Penh to discuss the establishment of the independent body, Mr. Evans said Cambodia’s current committee led by Mr. Kheng “falls short of what is required.”

“[The committee] was never intended or presented as being compliant,” he said. “It was always established as an interim arrangement that would lead toward the establishment of a compliant…independent National Preventive Mechanism.”

Such a mechanism must be given unlimited and unannounced access to places of detention and the right to speak with detainees confidentially. Mr. Evans said in other countries, the task has been taken up by independent human rights groups.

Speaking at the workshop, Mr. Kheng said he could not “entirely deny the existence of torture by the authorities” and admitted that “the capacity of our judicial police and prison officers is still limited and requires much improvement.”

However, he defended the work of his own committee to prevent torture, and said people should focus on “what we’ve achieved” rather than the group’s shortcomings.

Mr. Kheng did not elaborate on what his group had achieved. Mr. Evans said he could not comment on this either.

In June, the Asian Human Rights Commission said the government had failed to prevent what it called “systematic torture” across the country.

At least 141 cases of torture have been recorded since 2010, according to figures from rights group Adhoc, but the number of actual cases is believed to be far higher. Rights groups allege that confessions in places of detention have been extracted by torture such as shackling, intimidation and beatings.

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