Domestic Affairs

Cambodian detention center to stay open despite reports of multiple deaths last year

The Cambodian government on Tuesday acknowledged that deaths had occurred at a controversial detention center and it has concluded a preliminary investigation into the facility’s shortcomings, but there are no plans to shut it down as a prominent human rights group has urged.

The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, or LICADHO, reported last month that two people who were arbitrarily detained at the Prey Speu Social Affairs Center in Phnom Penh died of illness in August, with evidence suggesting that they were among more than 10 detainees who died at the center over a two-month period that started in July.

Touch Chan, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, said that he was aware of the group’s report, but he was not able to confirm the death toll or causes of death at the Phnom Penh facility.

“Of course, we do not deny what LICADHO found,” he said. ”Some of the information is acceptable.”

Touch Chan said the ministry led a working group investigation of the center, which revealed some issues that they are ready to solve, but Prey Speu will remain open.

The ministry has not investigated the two deaths reported by LICADHO and has not yet received an autopsy report, though it has received autopsies for other deaths that occurred at the center, Touch Chan said.

Though the government claims it to be a vocational training center, LICADHO says Prey Speu’s true function is “an unlawful detention facility to hide from view Phnom Penh’s most marginalized and at-risk citizens,” and denies them adequate food and healthcare. 

In its report, LICADHO said that it has documented abuses at Prey Speu since its opening in 2004, and it has advocated its closure since 2008. 

Promise to improve

Relevant parties must reorganize the center’s management and improve some shortcomings to comply with human rights principles, Touch Chan said, but he refused to elaborate on what the shortcomings were because the findings were still awaiting approval by the minister.

The government-backed Cambodian Human Rights Committee will visit Prey Speu after the preliminary investigation has been concluded, committee spokesman Katta On said. He said his team would conduct a fact finding mission about the deaths with the center’s management.

“LICADHO’s report blamed the center’s negligence and called for its closure,” he said, acknowledging that the Ministry of Social Affairs’ report didn’t mention management issues. 

LICADHO Director-General Am Sam Ath said that the government has failed to make changes at Prey Speu despite repeated promises over the years.

“For many years there has been no change. I’m worried that conditions at this center are still the same, so LICADHO still insists that if there is no change, it should be closed until there are ways to improve it,” he said.

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