Cambodia: towards an independent NPM?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Independence is key for National preventive mechanisms (NPMs) to work effectively and in compliance with the requirements set out by the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture. This was the recurring theme of a conference held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on 16-17 December 2013.

The conference, co-organised by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Cambodia and the national inter-ministerial committee acting as “interim” NPM, brought together representatives from governmental agencies, the legislative, the judiciary and civil society organisations, the Chairperson of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT), the OHCHR and the APT.

During two days participants discussed the OPCAT requirements for an effective and independent NPM and how to meet those in the Cambodian context. The SPT Chairperson welcomed the commitment of the government to fulfil its obligations under the OPCAT but reiterated the need for the establishment of an independent mechanism to prevent torture and other ill-treatment.

The government shared the main challenges faced by the inter-ministerial committee established to temporarily fulfil the NPM mandate, especially regarding the lack of adequate resources and the need for monitoring not only prisons, but also police custody and other places of detention. The APT was invited to share analysis, good practices and lessons learned from other states parties to the OPCAT on the designation and establishment of an independent NPM.  

Although participants appeared to agree on the lack of compliance of the “interim” NPM with the OPCAT requirements and the need for Cambodia to fulfil its obligations under the treaty, the conclusion of the conference by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior of Cambodia, Mr. Sar Kheng, was ambivalent.

“We have to look at what has been achieved so far and what remains to be done in preventing torture. (...) We will continue to make efforts but what we have achieved so far is already positive”, Mr. Kheng said.

OPCAT in Cambodia

Cambodia was the first country in Southeast Asia to ratify the OPCAT in March 2007, and it should have established its independent NPM within one year. In 2009 Cambodia established an inter-ministerial committee in charge of monitoring places of detention. However, its lack of compliance with the OPCAT has been publicly criticised by several international human rights bodies, including the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council in 2010, the Committee against Torture in 2011 and, more recently, by the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, at the end of its follow-up visit to Cambodia (9-13 December 2013).

“Cambodia has now had several years to gain experience of what is needed, and the time has come for the country to fulfil its international commitments by establishing an independent National Preventive Mechanism”, said the SPT Chairperson, Malcolm Evans.