The U.N.’s human rights envoy to Cambodia, Rhona Smith, visited the notorious Prey Speu detention center on Friday in a stop that officials said would allow her to see the “real situation” at the facility, which has long been criticized for its treatment of detainees.
Officially rebranded as the Phnom Penh Social Affairs Center in March, Prey Speu has become a symbol of what critics say is the municipal government’s abuse of the capital’s most vulnerable residents, with vagrants, addicts, beggars and prostitutes often taken off the streets by force and held indefinitely in poor conditions.
Rights groups have accused the center’s staff of beating and raping detainees, and have repeatedly called for it to be shut down. In June, Prime Minister Hun Sen told municipal authorities to either improve the facility or close it.
Em Chan Makara, a spokesman for the Social Affairs Ministry, said he was pleased Ms. Smith could see the center for herself.
“Ms. Rhona Smith visited the Prey Speu center because she wanted to see the real situation of the people who live there,” Mr. Chan Makara said. “We also told her that there were some people who were mentally ill and need to be taken care of.”
The spokesman said the visit illustrated that the government had nothing to hide.
“This can show that we are not hiding bad things going on there,” he said. “This is the situation, for instance, that she can see directly with her eyes.”
Ms. Smith, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, didn’t give any opinions on the state of the center during her morning tour, Mr. Makara said.
Sorn Sophal, director of the municipal social affairs department, said Ms. Smith visited the center for around an hour. “She walked around to see the situation in the center but she did not say anything,” he said.
Ms. Smith—who has encountered a backlash from the government due to her past criticisms—did not respond to a request for comment. Appointed last year, she is in the midst of a 10-day visit, her third in the role. She has said she wants to help the country find alternatives to provisional detention.