03/18/2022, 16.55
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Alarm bells set off by overcrowded prisons without adequate water and medical care

While the COVID-19 pandemic rages, prisons are operating at 343 per cent of their capacity, with more than 38,000 people stuck in facilities made for just under 9,000. For Amnesty International, the situation is like a “ticking time bomb". The government announces measures, but they are late and limited.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) – A recent report by the United Nations Human Rights Council indicates that since 2015, the number of inmates in Cambodian prisons has more than doubled, resulting in overcrowding and the violation of the rights of prisoners who often have no access to clean water and medical care.

According to government figures, 38,977 people are held in Cambodian prisons with an official capacity of 8,804. According to Amnesty International, this constitutes a “time bomb” that could go off at any moment.

The UN study, which covers the period from 1 June 2020 to 31 May 2021, slams the lack of beds, drinking water and fresh air in prisons, which are especially a priority issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Presented in Geneva (Switzerland) during a seminar on the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the report reveals that Cambodian prisons are operating at 343 per cent of their maximum capacity.

“The situation in prisons is perilous to the point that the conditions may constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment given the levels of mental and physical pain experienced by prisoners,” the report says.

UN experts have also pointed to a series of suspicious deaths in prison that have not been reported nor investigated.

Chin Malin, secretary of state of Cambodia’s Justice Ministry, told Radio Free Asia that his government has worked hard to reduce overcrowding in prisons, and that there are 2,000 fewer inmates this year. Suspended sentences and early release helped in reducing the numbers, easing the pressure on courts and prisons.

In reality, these are but belated and limited measures, so much so several international NGOs have repeatedly accused the Cambodian government of still ignoring the prison emergency.

Prison overcrowding is to a great extent due to the exponential rise in the incarceration of drug addicts, this according to the president of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association, Ny Sokha.

With the physical and mental health of prisoners at risk behind bars, after their release from prison, they will may not be able to work.

Over the past two years, Amnesty International has published images showing “inhumane conditions” and “extreme overcrowding”, which it views as a “ticking time bomb" in light of the risks associated with the pandemic. Many facilities simply completely ignore social distancing rules and overcrowding.

“These conditions were never acceptable,” said David Griffiths, director in the office of the secretary-general at Amnesty International. “Today they are completely unconscionable. The authorities must urgently ease this overcrowding crisis while giving all detainees access to appropriate healthcare without discrimination.”

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