Yim Khorn’s broken body belies her age. Just 54, her face is worn and lined. Her hips and legs do not properly support her twisted frame and she hobbles slowly, bent over, with the help of a crutch. She now has to beg for a living. But it was not always like this.
Ms. Khorn’s life changed irrevocably in 2010 when she was allegedly beaten and tortured so badly on five separate occasions by a high-ranking official and his bodyguards, with whom she was involved in a land dispute and who she has since tried and failed to bring to justice.
On Wednesday, she was one of three torture survivors to share their stories at an event to mark the U.N. International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, at which legal and psychological experts called for the rehabilitation of victims, amendments to legislation, and enforcement of the law to clearly define the act of physical and psychological torture and bring perpetrators to justice.
“The implementation of existing legislation has proven to be severely deficient in addressing the grave problem of torture in Cambodia,” says a statement released by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).
“The Cambodian government has failed to prevent and remedy widespread and systematic torture as well as illegal detention,” it adds.
The statement cites figures from rights group Adhoc, which has recorded at least 141 cases of torture and ill-treatment in police custody since 2010, but experts said Wednesday they believe the actual figures of unreported cases to be far higher.
Ny Chakrya, Adhoc’s head of monitoring, said there have been no convictions in any of those cases.
Rights groups have said that suspects face torture such as beatings, shackling for extended periods of time, and intimidation or threats against relatives—often to force confessions.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the legal-aid group Cambodian Defenders Project, said that although Cambodia had ratified the Convention Against Torture in 1992, a number of issues still needed to be addressed in order to strengthen the law in line with these conventions and in favor of victims of torture.
He referred to Article 98 in the Code of Criminal Procedure, which prohibits detainees from meeting with lawyers until a period of 24 hours has passed—and said that detainees should have immediate access to a lawyer, as well as a medical check, because most torture is committed in police custody and detention centers.
“Torture is an act committed by public officials to extract information or force a confession,” he said, “but it is hard to define the gravity of the torture.
“The police don’t want to have to find evidence,” Mr. Sam Oeun said. “If the police arrest someone, they have to find evidence.”
But this is not always the case, he said, adding that cases should not proceed against a detainee whose confession is extracted under torture.
Article 210 of the Criminal Code says that “torture and acts of cruelty committed against another person shall be punishable by imprisonment from seven to 15 years,” but Mr. Sam Oeun said it lacks clarity, as it fails to provide a definition of torture.
In a statement, AHRC policy director and former head of Untac’s human rights unit, Basil Fernando, said: “Without a basic reform of the system of justice as a whole, there is no way to stop the use of torture at the police stations and in the prisons.”
But Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said he had never received any complaints of torture committed by police officials.
“Torture in Cambodia is illegal,” he said. “Confessions extracted from torture will be illegal in the court…. If we receive complaints that the police tortured, they will face the punishment by the law.”