I would like to help today and donate

Next
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Next
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
CLOSE
NEWS

Time for bail: Ending needless mass detention in Cambodia

admin - December 6, 2018 - detention, presumption of innocence

This is a guest post written by Naly Pilorge, Director of the national Cambodian human rights organisation LICADHO, who have just published their new report: ‘Time for Bail: Ending Needless Mass Detention in Cambodia’. As with all of our guest posts, the views represented are of the author and may not reflect the views of Fair Trials.


Soklay*, a young mother, is doing her best to calm her crying newborn daughter before she disturbs the people around her. Her baby is always hungry. Soklay does not receive enough food to produce the breast milk necessary to feed her daughter so she must rely on donated formula and bottles. But even with these small comforts, it is difficult for Soklay to access clean water to make the formula or clean the bottles. Soklay and her newborn are always hungry.

Soklay isn’t struggling to feed her daughter in a village or her home province. She is struggling to feed her daughter while locked up in a Cambodian prison. She is wary of disturbing the other inmates who are overcrowded into the same cell. Soklay was arrested when she was five months pregnant for a drug-related offence. During her pregnancy she received no prenatal care and was only allowed to stay in the hospital for one day to give birth before she and her newborn daughter were brought back to prison.

Soklay is a disturbing example of some of Cambodia’s most vulnerable people who have been swept up in Cambodia’s descent into mass detention. The appalling conditions of Cambodia’s prisons have dramatically worsened since the government launched the “war on drugs” on 1 January 2017. As of July 2018, there were 138 children living in prisons, alongside 135 mothers and 30 pregnant women. By October 2018, Correctional Center 1 (CC1), the main men’s prison in Phnom Penh, housed 6,711 inmates despite being designed to hold just 2,050.

The abysmal conditions of Cambodia’s prison system have been well documented in the past. However, the current mass detention and ballooning of the prison population is both needless and preventable. Close to half of the new and expectant mothers (80) were being held in pre-trial detention. Almost 50% of the prisoners at Correctional Center 1 were pre-trial detainees.

In Cambodia, the right to a presumption of innocence is enshrined in the Cambodian Constitution, Criminal Procedure Code and binding international law. However, an adult accused of a felony can be held in pre-trial detention for up to 22 months before ever going to trial. By defaulting to pre-trial detention, judges reverse the presumption of innocence. The accused has to stay in detention until an already overworked judiciary schedules a date to hear the case and determines their innocence. In some cases, this can take years and when sentences are finally handed down, inmates have already been detained for longer than the sentencing period of the crime they were charged with. LICADHO has interviewed many detainees who have been in pre-trial detention for months with no scheduled court date, legal assistance, or detailed knowledge of the charge(s) against them.

This mass detention is both needless and preventable. The judiciary does not utilize bail provisions, and in practice, bail is denied to those accused of even common non-violent crimes. Cambodia’s growing prison population, acute overcrowding and extensive detention of infants is, in part, due to the systemic failures to appropriately implement bail provisions on pre-trial detention. Currently, the majority of people charged with a crime are imprisoned immediately, contravening existing Cambodian legal codes that call for bail to be provided in all but exceptional circumstances.

The reliance on pre-trial detention has continued despite the fact that in January 2014, the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) created new forms in conjunction with Cambodian courts for judges to use and determine when pre-trial detention is legally necessary.

Cambodia’s mass detention policies and the detrimental effects it has on individuals, families and communities is both needless, preventable, and within the power of the government to change. Everyone who is eligible should be asked if they wish to apply for bail. Pre-trial detention should only be used as a last resort, and in accordance with the presumption of innocence. The mechanism to achieve this already exists as the 2014 pre-trial detention forms requires judges to explain which provisional detention reasons apply to the case at hand.

*Note: Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the identity of our client.

All statistics as at July 2018.

LICADHO is a national Cambodian human rights organization. Since its establishment in 1992, LICADHO has been at the forefront of efforts to protect civil, political, economic and social rights in Cambodia and to promote respect for them by the Cambodian government and institutions. Building on its past achievements, LICADHO continues to be an advocate for the Cambodian people and a monitor of the government through wide ranging human rights programs from its main office in Phnom Penh and 13 provincial offices.

The Prison Project monitors 18 out of 28 prisons in Cambodia to assess conditions and ensure that pre-trial detainees have access to legal representation. A report “Time for Bail: Ending Needless Mass Detention” was published in October 2018. At the time of publication, LICADHO monitored 25,926 inmates of whom 9,527 (37%) were pre-trial detainees.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

Keep up to date

Receive updates on our work and news about Fair Trials globally

Activities in the following sections on this website are supported by the Justice Programme of the European Union: Legal Experts Advisory Panel, Defence Rights Map, Case Law Database, Advice Guides and Latest News. More information about our financial supporters is available here.