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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Cambodia to inspect its detention centers

By Lao Mong Hay

Hong Kong, China — A recent survey shows that over a quarter of the Cambodian population had been subject to torture in the 1970s under the Khmer Rouge regime. In the early 1990s Cambodia set out to prevent the repeat of this experience and adhere to the U.N. Convention against Torture and, in 2007, to the Optional Protocol to this convention or OPCAT.

However, Cambodia failed to honor its obligations under OPCAT and has been unable to create a national preventive mechanism within 12 months following its ratification of the protocol. The mechanism's main mandate is to visit places of detention and make recommendations to the relevant authorities to ensure respect for the fundamental rights of persons detained in those places.

Now, in a recent workshop in Phnom Penh on the implantation of OPCAT, the Cambodian government has pledged to put it in place in the next two years. In the same workshop, the prosecutor general of the Court of Appeal announced that he would soon exercise his power of inspection of prisons and police stations as conferred upon him and prosecutors of the Court of First Instance by a recently enacted code of criminal procedure. One of the aims of this inspection is to prevent torture or ill treatment of detainees.

Torture and other ill treatment are still used by the police to extract confessions not only to the alleged crime for which a suspect has been arrested but also to his previous crimes. Courts prefer to ignore claims of such treatment by accused persons to avoid the trouble of rejecting their statement to the police, ordering new investigations, and prosecuting the police officer(s) allegedly involved in the act.

Regarding the inspection of places of detention, it is not yet known what kind of methodology the prosecutor general will use to ascertain whether torture or other ill treatment is involved. Nor is it certain whether he will get full cooperation from the concerned officers although he has full disciplinary power over them. Besides, it is difficult to ensure that suspects detained in police cells or inmates in prisons who come forth with allegations of such acts will not suffer any retaliation after he departs following the inspection.

There are also serious doubts about his ability and that of prosecutors of the Court of First Instance to conduct thorough inspections of all police stations and prisons across the country as there are not many prosecutors and not all are allocated adequate resources for their prosecution task, let alone a particular inspection of a detention center.

However, these difficulties are a challenge to them in discharging their constitutional duties as members of the judiciary to protect the rights of Cambodians deprived of their liberty and held in detention centers.

Nevertheless, such inspections of places of detention should be welcomed and judicial officers should be unreservedly supported when exercising their authority. They should be allocated adequate resources for the task and given technical assistance to develop methodologies and other measures to ensure effective inspections to prevent torture and ill treatment of detainees. This will ensure respect for their fundamental rights.

Parallel to this inspection, the prosecutor general should propose amendments to the code of criminal procedure where suspects are informed of their right to legal advice, right to medical treatment and the right to inform family members of their detention, immediately after their arrest, which the present code fails to provide.

He should also issue instructions to all prosecutors of the Court of First Instance to be proactive in detecting torture or ill treatment when police bring suspects to be formally charged. These prosecutors should examine the body and the state of mind of suspects to detect torture, especially within the first 72 hours of their arrest. If they find any signs of ill treatment, they should promptly call for a medical examination, order a prompt investigation and prosecute the perpetrators.


(Lao Mong Hay is a senior researcher at the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong. He was previously director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and a visiting professor at the University of Toronto in 2003. In 1997, he received an award from Human Rights Watch and the Nansen Medal in 2000 from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.)

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Cambodian King leaves for China for routine medical checkup

PHNOM PENH, Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni left here on Wednesday for China for routine medical checkup.

He was seen off at the Phnom Penh International Airport by Senate President Chea Sim, National Assembly President Heng Samrin, Prime Minister Hun Sen, other government officials, royal family members and Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Zhang Jinfeng.

During this trip, Sihamoni will look in his parents, former King Norodom Sihanouk and former Queen Monineath Sihanouk, who are having a rest in Beijing.

The couple went to Beijing last August for routine medical checkup and rest.
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No breakthrough at Thai, Cambodia talks

BANGKOK - Thai and Cambodian negotiators said Wednesday they had made little headway during fresh talks aimed at ending a border stand-off which erupted into a deadly military clash last year.

Senior government and military officials from the two nations, meeting in Bangkok, had hoped to make progress on border demarcation and reducing troop numbers in disputed land around Cambodia's ancient Preah Vihear temple.

Tensions over the long-disputed territory flared in July last year after Preah Vihear was granted United Nations world heritage status, and soldiers clashed there in October leaving four troops dead.

But as talks opened on Tuesday, the two sides locked horns over what spelling to use for Preah Vihear in documents. Although the World Court has recognised the temple as belonging to Cambodia, Thais call it Phra Viharn.

Speaking Wednesday after the latest talks ended, officials from the neighbours said they had agreed only to set up a working committee to look at the legal border issues and to begin mapping and surveying the disputed zones.

"We tried hard to find solutions in the interests of the two countries. We don't agree on some points which need to be discussed and clarified," chief Cambodian negotiator Var Kimhong told reporters.

Vasin Teeravechyan, head of the Thai delegation, said: "There are still some points that cannot be solved right away. We hope to find (solutions) in the next meeting, which will be held in the second week of April in Cambodia."

"One point is the name of the temple," he added.

The last meeting, in Cambodia's tourist hub Siem Reap in November, ended with officials agreeing in principle to reduce troop numbers at the border and form a task force, but there has been no concrete progress since then.

Thailand's defence minister is expected to visit Cambodia on Friday to discuss withdrawing troops from territory around the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, which sits on Cambodian land just on the border.

The Cambodian-Thai border has never been fully demarcated, in part because it is littered with landmines left over from decades of war in Cambodia.

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American, 75, charged with molesting Cambodian boy

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A prosecutor says a 75-year-old American man has been charged with sexually abusing four Cambodian boys.

Prosecutor Nuon San says the man has been charged after allegedly molesting boys aged between 9 and 13-years old. He faces up to three years in prison if convicted.

Police say Jack Louis Sporich was arrested Monday in Siem Reap, a major tourist destination 143 miles (230 kilometers) northwest of Phnom Penh.

Police say Sporich, who said he was from Chicago, Illinois, has denied the allegations.

Cambodia has long been a magnet for foreign pedophiles because of its poverty and lax law enforcement, but action against sex offenders has been stepped up in recent years.
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