Police torture and corrupt judges may continue to mar Cambodia’s justice system, leaving plenty of room for improvement, said members of a UN commission during the 13th session of the UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva.
Independent experts on state-sponsored torture heard Cambodia’s official report on its efforts to implement the Convention Against Torture during the second day of its three-week conference, which began Monday. The conference is intended to gauge the success of measures adopted by Cambodia and seven other countries to outlaw and prevent torture since they signed the convention in 1992.
At this early stage, the committee had more questions about Cambodia’s report than answers. There were no Cambodian delegate present to answer questions about the report, which the government is required by treaty to file. This is the first time in the committee’s history that a government that faced scrutiny over its human rights record was not present to defend itself, according to the UN statement.
Khin Cheam, first secretary of the Cambodian Mission to the UN office in Geneva, said financial constraints due to the upcoming national elections prevented government officials from attending, according to the statement.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Committee chairman Peter Thomas Burns said he was particularly concerned about the lack of independence within the county’s judiciary, according to a news release issued by the UN.
He also said he was “particularly concerned by the situation of impunity. Not a single Khmer Rouge official had been prosecuted for serious human rights offense…. If anything underlined concerns about the state of the Cambodian judicial system, it was that,” according to the release
The committee had reported that it received information that “heavy evidence was placed on confession as the crucial piece of evidence, which could incline the police not to investigate other evidence…. It could also explain widespread reports of endemic, brutal treatment by police of members of the public and detainees,” according to the statement.
According to Cambodia’s own report on torture, “some accused persons or suspects have been tortured by competent authorities during interrogation. These acts happened secretly and were difficult to prosecute. There has been little evidence sufficient to punish the offender.”
A second meeting on the issue of torture and judicial impropriety in Cambodia was scheduled to take place Wednesday. The committee plans to issue its final Cambodian report on May 12.