Today – 26 June 2014 – marks the 26th International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, inaugurated to coincide with the day the United Nations Charter was signed in 1946 and the date in 1987 when the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“the Convention”) came into force. Cambodia ratified the Convention in 1992, along with a plethora of other human rights treaties it ratified under UNTAC but has subsequently failed to adhere to.
It is fitting that the theme of this year’s campaign on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture is ‘fighting impunity’ as torturers in Cambodia are rarely punished for their actions and in some cases those who have been accused of committing or overseeing grave acts of violence in the past, including acts of torture, remain in positions of power today.
Torture takes many forms, but the Convention gives special attention to the circumstances of cases, taking into account the vulnerability of the victims. Those in detention are particularly vulnerable to torture, either while in police custody or later in prison, and the torture of detainees is well documented in Cambodia.
ADHOC has received numerous complaints from victims who claim police have attempted to extract confessions from them using electrical currents, blunt instruments and knives among other things. Prisoners have also suffered beatings, resulting in deaths in some instances. Though ADHOC has submitted complaints to the courts on behalf of victims and their families, the long processing times which plague Cambodia’s courts and the offer of compensation by perpetrators to the poor means that torture often goes unpunished and impunity prevails.
Torture goes beyond violence or threats of violence committed against detainees to include the living conditions of those detained, which is relevant in Cambodia’s notoriously overcrowded and underfunded prisons. According to rights group LICADHO prisons have as little as 0.7 square meter of space allotted to each prisoner. Moreover, with only around $0.70 allocated for food, inmates suffer from a lack of adequate food, water and sanitation.
With torture in state custody – whether physical, mental or relating to the horrific living conditions prisoners endure when detained – still widespread in Cambodia 14 years after it ratified the Convention, it is time the government woke up and took its international obligation to combat torture seriously. The International Day in Support of Victims of Torture provides an opportunity for the Cambodian government to commit to taking serious steps to eradicate torture. Otherwise the ratifications of the Convention, like so many other treaties it has signed but ignored, is meaningless.
This post is written by Neil Loughlin, Technical Assistant with the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (“ADHOC”).