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Guest Post: In Cambodia's prisons, overcrowding, corruption and the excessive use of pre-trial detention remain the norm

editor - February 3, 2015 - corruption, Pre-trial detention

 LICADHOOn January 22, 2015 the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal in Cambodia heard two cases involving 10 long-term women land rights activists and one Buddhist monk. In each case, the defendants had been charged, tried and convicted to one year imprisonment approximately 24 hours after their arrest. The Court of Appeal heard both cases together in a single four-hour afternoon session before upholding the hasty convictions against all 11 defendants, albeit reducing the sentences for some.

Two days prior to these latest politically motivated hearings, the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) released its report “Rights at a Price: Life inside Cambodia’s Prisons,” detailing the ongoing, systematic abuse, discrimination, exploitation and corruption within Cambodia’s prison system. The report draws on information obtained from full prison site visits and includes interviews with current and former prisoners, families of those held, meetings with prison directors and other prison staff.

 

Whilst prisons in Cambodia differ from each other in many respects, LICADHO’s report shows that overcrowded, squalid conditions are the norm and corruption is widespread. For most inmates, cash flow dictates conditions of detention, treatment, family visits and access to basic needs such as food, water, daylight and fresh air. Powerful and unregulated cell leadership structures dominate life inside cells and operate with impunity.

Levels of pre-trial detention are high, particularly amongst women and juveniles and there are many documented cases of unlawful detention and long waits for appeal hearings. Alternative measures to detention are rarely considered and too many people are held in prison unnecessarily.

The situation of inmates with mental health problems, juveniles, pregnant women and children living in prison with their mothers is also of concern, especially given the dire state of prison health facilities and ongoing reports of abuse.

In response to LICADHO’s report, the Director-General of the Interior Ministry’s General Department of Prisons, Kuy Bunsorn, categorically denied that corruption and torture exist within Cambodia’s prisons, repeating the same untenable position he has staunchly maintained over the years despite numerous reports to the contrary and continual criticism both domestically and internationally.

When a state deprives a person of their liberty, it also assumes a duty of care to respect their dignity and protect their rights. Whilst there are some rights that are inevitably limited by imprisonment there are others that can and must be fully protected without discrimination. The state is obligated to, amongst other responsibilities, protect individuals from physical and emotional abuse, prison related health problems and inhuman or degrading living conditions.

Unfortunately, despite government assertions to the contrary, the judicial and penal systems in Cambodia are not guided by human rights approaches. Instead both are corrupt political structures driven by nepotism.

Without fundamental changes, prison authorities will never be able to meaningfully fulfil their stated purpose of education and rehabilitation in a safe, secure environment. To achieve real change, the courts must understand the impact of their sentencing policies and there must be a shift away from the dominant factors which currently determine prison life, namely the normalization of corruption, the influence of powerful cell leadership structures and the almost complete lack of accountability.

The full report can be accessed here.

This is a guest post written by Naly Pilorge, director of LICADHO and may not reflect the views of Fair Trials International. 

licadho-titleLICADHO is a national Cambodian human rights organization established in 1992. LICADHO’s prison project is charged with monitoring 18 of Cambodia’s 28 prisons and providing a variety of services to inmates within these prisons. Image Credit: LICADHO.

For regular updates follow Fair Trials on Twitter or sign-up to our monthly bulletin at the bottom of the page. Also, you can find our previous Guest Post on Cambodia here.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

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