Ahead of the appeal hearing this week for 10 land activists and one monk, all wrongfully convicted and imprisoned following unfair trials, LICADHO is publishing a new report about the current state of Cambodian prisons and the human rights implications for those held in them.
The report “Rights at a Price: Life inside Cambodia’s Prisons” details the ongoing, systematic abuse, discrimination, exploitation and corruption within Cambodia’s prison system and notes that despite steps towards reform, many challenges remain, including prison overcrowding, poor infrastructure, lack of appeal transportation, weak implementation of the law and lack of knowledge amongst prison officials.
“The problems within Cambodia’s prison system are deep-seated and unfortunately we have yet to see any real commitment to long-lasting solutions,” said LICADHO’s Prison Project Supervisor, Sam An Nou. “Added to that, there are simply too many people held in prison unnecessarily yet alternative measures are rarely considered.”
Whilst prisons in Cambodia differ from each other in many respects, there are many constant factors that characterize the entire Cambodian prison system. Overcrowded, squalid conditions are the norm and corruption is widespread. For most inmates, cash flow dictates conditions of detention, treatment, family visits and access to basic needs such as food, water, daylight and fresh air. Powerful and unregulated cell leadership structures dominate life inside cells and operate with impunity.
Levels of pre-trial detention are high, particularly amongst women and juveniles and there are many documented cases of unlawful detention and long waits for appeal hearings. The situation of inmates with mental health problems, juveniles, pregnant women and children living in prison with their mothers is also of concern, especially given the dire state of prison health facilities and ongoing reports of abuse.
“Cambodian authorities should respect and protect the rights of prisoners, but in reality inmates’ rights are violated on a regular basis,” said Naly Pilorge, LICADHO’s Director. “Sadly, prison authorities are far too willing to abdicate their protection responsibilities for economic gain and political favor.”
In the report LICADHO argues that without fundamental changes, prison authorities will never be able to meaningfully fulfill their stated purpose of education and rehabilitation in a safe, secure environment. To achieve real change, the courts must understand the impact of their sentencing policies and there must be a shift away from the dominant factors which currently determine prison life, namely the normalization of corruption, the influence of powerful cell leadership structures and the almost complete lack of accountability.
Those scheduled to appear before the appeal court this week are just some of dozens of inmates who are held in prison for politically motivated reasons. Most are held in Phnom Penh’s CC1 and CC2 prisons which are amongst the harshest in the country. Many other inmates, including
pregnant women and juveniles, are held unnecessarily in prisons across the country for minor offences. Others are held unlawfully due to legal or procedural irregularities.
The report is based on LICADHO’s research in the 18 prisons regularly monitored, including interviews with current and former prisoners, families of those held, meetings with prison directors and other prison staff. The report also draws on information obtained from full prison site visits conducted in the past two years and information from LICADHO’s medical staff who regularly treat patients and prison staff in 14 prisons. The report concludes with a set of recommendations to the Cambodian authorities on how to improve policy and practice towards the promotion and full protection of prisoners’ rights.