In a recent visit to the Kandal Provincial Prison, Keo Remy, chairman of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee (CHRC), assessed detention conditions, human rights practices and met with detainees, including former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan. 

In a December 20 press release, CHRC noted Remy’s commendation of leaders and officials for their responsible fulfilment of duties, enhancing detainees’ living conditions and upholding their legal rights.

“The CHRC is grateful to leaders and prison officials for their collaboration in advancing the protection of detainees’ rights and freedoms,” the release said.

Remy also called on them to prioritise the prevention of violence and torture, aligning with both national and international human rights standards.

Samphan is the sole surviving former Khmer Rouge leader in Case 002/02 of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), commonly known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, and is currently serving a life sentence in Kandal provincial prison.

At 92 years old, he is housed separately from other detainees, receiving care from caregivers, doctors and prison officials. He maintains typical health for his age.

According to the General Department of Prisons (GDP), prisons currently face overcrowding, with inmates having less than 1sqm of accommodation on average. International standards recommend detainees receive more than 3sqm of accommodation.

This acknowledgment was made by representatives of prisons and correctional centres from across the country during a December 19 meeting held to assess the GDP’s 2023 work results and outline its working direction for 2024.

“The current situation and challenges require finding a solution, particularly as the majority of detainees are involved in drug offences. The prison infrastructure has not adequately responded to the rising number of detainees, negatively impacting the security, health of officials and the well-being of detainees,” said the GDP.

During the meeting, GDP director-general Chhorn Sanath instructed leaders and officials to establish designated areas for detention outside the cells. Additionally, he mentioned the need to remove unnecessary personal belongings from detainees’ rooms.

“The GDP collaborates with the Ministry of Justice to gather data on elderly and mentally ill inmates, aiming to seek conditional release and implement community sentences. This initiative aims to alleviate overcrowding in prisons,” he said.

Sanath emphasised the need for additional exercise hours for detainees, particularly focusing on children, mothers, pregnant women and vulnerable individuals, to alleviate congestion.

Am Sam Ath, operations director at rights group LICADHO, said on December 20 that civil society organisations, including his, have already submitted recommendations. 

The justice ministry launched a campaign to expedite legal processes in provincial and municipal courts to address prison overcrowding. However, these solutions are yet to be implemented, he noted.

Sam Ath stressed that prison expansion is not an optimal response. Instead, the focus should be on preparing inmates capable of serving the community. He proposed releasing human rights activists, social workers and political activists on bail. Furthermore, authorities should assess elderly inmates nearing the end of their sentences for potential release on bail, contributing to community support.

“All proposed solutions aim to alleviate prison overcrowding, considering the potential health risks, anxiety and other related conditions faced by inmates,” he said.

According to the GDP, as of November 25, prisons across the country accommodate a total of 42,660 inmates (2,560 females), 2,304 foreigners (255 females), 2,303 minors, 27 pregnant women and 115 children staying with their mothers.

The report further reveals that inmates charged with drug offences constitute the highest proportion at 48.95 per cent, aggravated theft 10.14 per cent, theft 11.98 per cent, rape 5.81 per cent, murder 5.29 per cent, and “others” at 17.83 per cent. This represents a 12.73 per cent increase compared to 2022, amounting to 4,820 additional inmates.