Thursday, 29 January 2009

Govt mulls torture watchdog

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng
Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Proposed body to bring Cambodia in line with UN agreements

THE Ministry of Interior and UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) held a workshop last week to study in detail requirements for the establishment of a government body to implement the UN Convention Against Torture.

"We believe that torture is still a common crime ... occurring in prisons against those accused of doing something wrong," said Jason Barber, consultant to rights group Licadho, commenting on the proposed initiative.

According to Barber, torture is still commonly used by police to extract confessions from suspects.

The proposed subdecree would create a temporary body pending the establishment of a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) that is consistent with the UN's Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT), a legislative process that UN and government officials expect to take up to two years.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, told the Post that the problem of torture had improved in some respects but that it was still a "bad habit" in the police force.

He added that the proposed NPM could help to reduce instances of torture in the country, but only if it is independent and respects the spirit of existing international agreements.

"I think that the NPM will improve the investigation process where it is respected," he said.

"But I remain concerned about individual police officers, who still do not understand the principles of OPCAT."

However, Som Kol Sokun, director of the Prison Department at the Ministry of Interior, who participated in the workshop last week, has denied torture allegations.

"There is no torture in prisons, we have received no information," he told the Post last week.

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