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Group Calls for Safeguards for Prisoners

The Asian Human Rights Commission on Wednesday pushed the government to set up an independent body to prevent the torture of prison inmates and suspects in police custody across the country.

“In the first five months of 2009, there were reportedly five deaths in police custody against three for the whole of 2008,” the Hong Kong-based rights group said in a statement. “The families of the dead and human rights monitors have suspected torture as the cause of death.”

Authorities dismissed the deaths as suicides, but no investigations were ordered and medical personnel were reluctant to counter police reports, the group said, claiming Cambodia had failed to honor its obligations to a UN convention against torture, which it ratified in 2007.

Nouth Sa An, secretary of state for the Ministry of Interior, told VOA Khmer the government was preparing a working group to cooperate with the Asian Human Rights Commission to prevent torture and killings of prisoners.

“We respect human rights,” he said. “A person who is an inmate in prison or in custody of the police is also a human.”

However, the Rights Commission said the ministry had failed “for many years” to permit local rights groups access to police stations, despite granting access to prisons.

The commission noted, however, that in surveys of 18 prisons across the country, alleged torture cases had declined. Allegations at police stations fell from 450 in 1999 to 124 in 2007 and 78 in 2008.

Hang Roraken, prosecutor-general for the Court of Appeals, said the judicial system had worked closely with the Asian Human Rights Commission over the past six months to prevent mistreatment of prisoners.

“I have always advised the prosecutors, judicial police and prison guards to respect the UN convention against torture, not to abuse individual rights,” he said. “In Cambodia, there is no torture in prisons when police detain suspects.”

Cambodia has no anti-torture law, but torture is criminalized and punishable under a new penal code recently approved for National Assembly consideration.