UN and Social Affairs Officials Convene to Discuss Prey Speu

Social affairs officials met Thursday with the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to discuss the notorious Prey Speu social affairs center, with the government giving permission for the U.N. to visit the center Friday and identify residents who require psychiatric assistance or who want to leave.

The meeting followed a tour of the center on Tuesday by lawmakers on the National Assembly’s health commission, who were seeking to follow up on reports of arbitrary detention and mistreatment at the institution, which is officially called the Pur Senchey Vocational Training Center.

A guard, left, squats among detainees at the Pur Senchey Vocational Training Center in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. (Alex Consiglio/The Cambodia Daily)
A guard, left, squats among detainees at the Pur Senchey Vocational Training Center in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. (Alex Consiglio/The Cambodia Daily)

The U.N., rights group Licadho and Human Rights Watch have all reported cases of arbitrary detention and physical and sexual abuse at the center, which offers no vocational training, despite its name.

“There was consensus during the meeting that the center lacked the resources and services to address the problems,” Wan-Hea Lee, country representative of the OHCHR, said in an email.

“A joint visit to the center was approved to take place tomorrow afternoon by representatives of the UN, TPO [Transcultural Psychosocial Organization], Friends International and Mith Samlanh, with a view to providing transport to those who are in a condition to leave the centre and to conduct diagnosis and referrals to psychiatric care and/or psycho-social support for those in need of such attention,” she said.

However, municipal social affairs department director Sorn Sophal, who attended Thursday’s meeting, said the discussion with the U.N. had been useless.

“[the U.N.] does not help with anything, but it helps make trouble because it speaks nonsense and helps nothing,” he said.

He added that most of those at the center were mentally ill, so releasing them would be fruitless.

“There are still people who have no ability to go anywhere and do not have permanent homes and they have mental problems and if we do not keep them there, they would wander around the street.”

This week’s visit followed a similar excursion made by CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang in November, following reports that an elderly resident died at the center, where many vagrants are sent after city authorities sweep them off the streets before public events.

Mr. Chhay Eang said that there had been only one change at the center since his last visit: the daily meal allowance had increased from about $0.30 to $1.10.

“All we can do is push authorities to work properly,” he said Thursday. “We have no right to punish.”

Mr. Chhay Eang added that since his visit, he had passed the case of Prey Speu on to CNRP lawmaker Ke Sovannaroth, the head of the parliamentary health commission, who led the second visit.

Ms. Sovannaroth said Thursday that if conditions at the center did not improve, she would summon Social Affairs Minister Vong Soth to the National Assembly.

“I will summon the minister to ask more questions if there is no change, but they promised us that they will organize vocational training and increase food,” she said.

(Additional reporting by Alex Consiglio)

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