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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cambodia: Respect For Suspects' Rights

Cambodia: Respect For Suspects' Rights Will Prevent Death In Police Custody

Five suspects in police custody are known to have died in police custody in different locations in Cambodia over the first five months of this year. There have been allegations that they suffered torture or other forms of ill-treatment. However, the police have refuted these allegations and with medical certification as proof, claimed that the suspects had committed suicide. The reference to medical certification has led to further allegations that doctors whom the authorities called in to do the autopsies were themselves under pressure not to antagonize the police and arrive at a conclusion that did not differ from what the police version. Despite the ongoing suspicion of torture or other forms of ill-treatment the authorities have refused independent investigations into the causes of those deaths.

More recently, another suspect died in police custody in Svay Rieng Province. The suspect, Thong Sary, 54, was arrested in a drunk-driving accident in which he crashed his motorcycle, killing his passenger and injuring himself. His wife, Meas Thavy, visited him and, noting the worsening of his injuries repeatedly requested the custodial officer to send her husband to hospital for treatment. The officer refused her request and instead told her to bring in a doctor to treat him in prison.

Meas Thavy could not get a doctor to treat her husband because he was a suspect and there was no letter of authorization for medical treatment from the police. Dr. Ke Ratha, deputy director of the provincial health department, and a number of his fellow doctors carried out the autopsy on Thong Sary. Dr. Ke Ratha has reportedly said that Thong Sary “died from an inflammation of the stomach or intestine caused by drinking wine without eating, his injury from the traffic accident or if someone hit him.” Dr. Ke Ratha further said that “If he was sent for treatment on time he may not have died.”

Prach Rim, the provincial police chief, has denied allegations of torture on Thong Sary; but has admitted police carelessness over the refusal to send him for medical treatment.

The Asian Human Rights Commission holds that the cause of death of this particular police custody were not due so much to the “police carelessness” as to the shortcoming of the criminal procedure pertaining to police custody. This procedure has not recognized and guaranteed the rights of suspects to medical treatment. Article 99 of the Code of Criminal procedure has left this medical treatment to the discretionary decision to the custody officer and the prosecutor. This article says, “The Royal Prosecutor or the judicial police officer may ask a doctor to examine the detained person at any time.” Furthermore, article 98 of the same code has recognized and guaranteed the rights of suspect to legal counsel only after 24 hours of arrest has expired. It says, “After a period of twenty four hours from the beginning of the police custody has expired, the detainee may request to speak with a lawyer or any other person who is selected by the detainee, provided that the sel.

In order to avoid any future possibility of “police carelessness” and further death in police custody, the Code of Criminal procedure should be amended to recognize and guarantee the rights of suspect to medical treatment, legal counsel and communication with family. Upon the arrest, it should be mandatory for custody officer to notify suspects of all these rights. Article 98 and article 99 should be amended for the custody police officer and be supplemented as follows:

Article 98: At the beginning of that detention, the suspect has to the right to speak with a lawyer or any other person who is selected by him or her, provided that the selected person is not involved in the same offense. He or she has further the right to communicate with his or her family.

Article 99: The suspect has the right to medical treatment anytime during his or her detention.
Article 99 (a): The custody police officer shall notify the suspect of his or her rights as mentioned in article 98 and 99.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.
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Rights groups protest Cambodia 'AIDS colony'

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - AIDS campaigners and rights groups protested on Tuesday at Cambodia's shunting of sufferers of the virus into an insanitary "AIDS colony" outside the capital.

Over 100 international and domestic pressure groups told Prime Minister Hun Sen and Health Minister Mam Bunheng in a letter they were "deeply disturbed" by the government's treatment of 40 HIV-affected families.

Over the past two months the government has evicted the families from Phnom Penh to live in metal sheds without running water or adequate sanitation at Tuol Sambo, an area 25 kilometres (15 miles) from the capital, it said.

"By bundling people living with HIV together into second-rate housing, far from medical facilities, support services and jobs, the government has created a de facto AIDS colony," said Shiba Phurailatpam, of the Asia-Pacific Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, in a statement issued by the groups.

Rebecca Schleifer of New York-based Human Rights Watch said: "The housing conditions in Tuol Sambo pose serious health risks for families living there.

"People living with HIV have compromised immune systems and are especially vulnerable. For them, these substandard conditions can mean a death sentence or a ticket to a hospital," she added.

The Cambodian government has faced mounting criticism of forced evictions throughout the country at the hands of the army and police, which a recent human rights report said has affected more than 250,000 people.

Evictions for development purposes have increased in Cambodia as land prices have risen over the past few years. Critics say the practice is fuelling poverty.
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