The ICRC visited five Thai nationals (four men and one woman) in a Cambodian prison on 17 January 2011. The five were arrested in late December 2010. Jacques Stroun, head of the ICRC’s regional delegation in Bangkok, talks about this case and explains the ICRC’s detainee welfare work in the region.
On Monday 17 January, an ICRC team of detention specialists based in Phnom Penh began a two-day visit to a prison on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. The reason that the ICRC has taken an interest in the cases of these Thai nationals is that they are being detained outside their home country.
Did the ICRC specifically ask to visit them?
We did indeed, as soon as we became aware that they were in jail. Our request was based on humanitarian grounds, in that people are particularly vulnerable if they are detained in a foreign country, where they perhaps do not speak the language, a long way from their families. We asked to visit the Thai nationals ahead of our regular scheduled visits to other detainees in the same prison. Wherever we work, it is our policy to pay special attention to vulnerable people in detention, such as children, women, and foreigners.
What sort of detention activities does the ICRC undertake in Cambodia?
In agreement with the Cambodian authorities, we regularly visit detainees in various prisons around the country. In 2010, our delegates visited more than 8,000 detainees in 19 Cambodian prisons.
The purposes of those visits are to assess the treatment and living conditions of the detainees, to ensure that their physical and mental well-being are fully respected and to verify that their conditions of detention are in line with international standards. During these visits, ICRC staff meet the detainees and the authorities on a bilateral and confidential basis.
We work closely with Cambodia’s General Department of Prisons (GDP) on improving the material conditions of detainees and supporting the prison authorities in their efforts to improve prison management.
In November 2010, the ICRC worked with the GDP to run a workshop on healthcare in prisons, where representatives from neighbouring countries such as the Thai Department of Corrections were able to share their experience. More than 150 participants attended, most of them from Cambodia. Participants included prison governors, health personnel, NGOs and international organizations working on health-related issues.
Do you also visit detainees in Thailand?
We have been working in Thai places of detention since 2004, when the Thai government accepted our offer to visit people held in connection with the situation in the south of the country. In 2010, we visited some 650 detainees in different places of detention, assessing their treatment and conditions.
We also help detainees to maintain contact with their families through the exchange of Red Cross messages. We help families from southern Thailand visit their relatives detained in the capital, Bangkok, by covering part of their travel expenses. Since 2005, we have helped 90 families visit their detained relatives.
What work does the ICRC undertake in the region’s prisons?
The ICRC has considerable expertise regarding the treatment of detainees and physical conditions of detention, and the organization’s approach and activities in places of detention depend on the context. In this region, the ICRC works with the authorities to resolve structural problems and to enhance their capabilities in prison management and other fields, such as water and sanitation.
In Cambodia, ICRC staff based in Phnom Penh work closely with the General Department of Prisons on these issues, helping the prison authorities improve prison management and conditions of detention.
In South East Asia more generally, the ICRC works with prison authorities on a number of levels. Last November, for instance, we ran a three-day high-level prison seminar in Jakarta, Indonesia, at which officials from eight countries in South East Asia discussed a regional approach to improving prison infrastructure.