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Ongoing Torture Goes Unpunished: Rights Workers

An Appeals Court judge on Thursday, April 12, 2007, upheld the Phnom Penh Municipal Court's ruling in 2005, which sentenced Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun to 20 years each in jail for the 2004 shooting death of Chea Vichea, who headed Cambodia's Free Trade

While torture continues for suspects in the custody of police and other security officials, leading rights workers say it rarely goes punished. And it can come in different forms.

“Torture is not only explained through physical oppression, but also the oppression of mental thinking,” said Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project.

Threats and other mental pressure used to coerce confessions are also an ongoing problem, he said, as a guest on “Hello VOA” Monday.

The Defenders Project and other groups say Cambodia's record of torture in the penal system should be examined by the UN Committee Against Torture, which reviews Cambodia's commitments to an anti-torture agreement in Geneva on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the country still lacks the will or means to charge perpetrators, he said. “There have been no punishments made by the courts.”

“Since Cambodia singed the convention against torture in 1992, there have been a few people responsible for torture who have been punished,” Chan Saveth, chief investigator for the rights group Adhoc, said on “Hello VOA.” “And victims don't have the courage to file a lawsuit.”

Callers expressed concern over torture in post-conflict Cambodia, as well as land grabs and violence against human rights workers. One caller from Kampong Cham asked whether the government knew about abuses, including the reportedly forced confessions of Born Samnang and Sok Samoeun, two men who are currently free on bail—and widely considered innocent—on charges they killed labor leader Chea Vichea in 2004.

“They were tortured and forced to confess,” Chan Saveth said. “And they have not totally been acquitted.”