About 100 homeless and mentally ill Cambodians who are being detained in a center on the outskirts of Phnom Penh implored an opposition lawmaker on Tuesday to request that the facility serve them better quality food and stop torture and other rights abuses.
Ke Sovannaroth, a Cambodian National Rescue Committee (CNRP) lawmaker and chairperson of parliament’s social affairs commission, was visiting Posen Chey Vocational Training Center when the detainees, including children as young as two years old, told her that the center was not a rehabilitation center, but a prison where they have been tortured.
A woman held at the facility told RFA’s Khmer Service that guards had hit her with bamboo sticks.
One man said he didn’t have enough food to eat and what he was given was poor quality. He also said the center offered no clean water or health services.
“The soup only consists of water,” he said. “I only have one set of clothes, which I am wearing right now.”
Authorities in the capital rounded up the detainees, who identified themselves as scavengers, homeless people or mentally ill, while city hall prepared for two public ceremonies—the funeral of Chea Sim, president of Cambodia’s ruling party and president of the Senate, and the 79th birthday of Norodom Monineath Sihanouk, the queen mother.
After Ke Sovannaroth met with the center’s managers, she said they agreed to make improvements.
She also requested that personnel help detainees who wanted to leave the facility to be reintegrated into the communities and reunited with their families.
“The detainees don’t receive any training,” she said. “I will intervene to help them return to [society] as soon as possible.”
Ke Sovannaroth said she also was seeking help on the issue from the United Nations.
Treated like an animal
One 20-year-old detainee bowed her head before Ke Sovannaroth and Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator with the domestic rights group Licadho, who also visited the facility, and cried as she told them that guards there had abused her and treated her as an animal.
“I was selling food on the street when the [Phnom Penh] security guards they arrested me,” she said. “The guards used a baton to beat me and shocked me.”
Another man said he was detained in the center two weeks ago.
“They arrested us just like we were thieves,” he said.
Sorn Sophal, director of Phnom Penh’s social affairs department, which oversees the Posen Chey Vocational Training Center, dismissed the claims and denied that the center’s guards used violence against the detainees.
“We had about 300 people here, but 89 people already left [after they requested to leave the center], so no one abused them,” he said.
But he admitted that the center could not provide the current detainees with enough food because it received little money from the government and had to rely on donations.
The center can spend only 1,500 riel (37 U.S. cents) a day on each detainee, he said, but added that he recently heard that it would be authorized to spend about 5,000 riel (U.S. $1.23) daily on each detainee.
“Frankly speaking, the amount of money is not enough,” he said.
Am Sam Ath said the situation at the center had not improved during the past year.
He also said the center had released only 10 of the 100 people that were detained during the recent round-up in Phnom Penh, and that they now had health problems.
“The detainees don’t receive any vocational training,” he said. “The center is like a prison.”
On June 24, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement calling for the immediate release of the more than 100 people who had been arbitrarily detained as part of the preparations for the two public ceremonies.
“Cambodian holidays and ceremonies should not be ‘celebrated’ with the arbitrary arrests of the country’s most vulnerable people,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of HRW.
“Those thrown without charge into misnamed ‘opportunity centers’ should be immediately released.”
Cambodian authorities commonly detain people considered undesirable in detention centers around the country usually under the guises of “social rehabilitation” and “drug treatment,” according to HRW.
Such round-ups in Phnom Penh have been accompanied by extortion, beatings and sexual abuse by police and other authorities, the group said.
Reported by Sek Bandit for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.