>Water Festival fears for illegal detainees in Cambodia

>Scene from the 2007’s Water Festival.

A human rights group is concerned that the upcoming Water Festival in Cambodia could see another surge of illegal detentions and hidden abuses for the capital Phnom Penh’s homeless and sex workers.

Writing etched into the walls of one so-called “social rehabilitation center” suggests that people are being detained against their will and abused, according to rights group LICADHO.

The group has called on the Cambodian government to shut down the centres, including one that was once a Khmer Rouge death-camp in the 70s.

In recent years the camp has been turned into what the Government describes as a “Social Rehabilitation Centre.”

Human rights group LICADHO says, however, it’s one of several illegal prisons that keep the homeless and destitute off the streets and out of sight.

The Cambodian Government has repeatedly claimed the island camp and other similar centres are voluntary and have denied accusations of abuse.

But last week LICADHO monitors gained access to a facility in Kampong Speu province.

LICADHO’S director, Naly Pilorge says what they found was evidence that contradicts Government claims the centres are for rehabilitation.

“My colleagues entered the facilities and went into the rooms where people were detained,” she said.

“Immediately they saw drawings and writing both in Khmer, in Thai and also in English of obviously former detainees that had written appeals and their situation here in those rooms. There was a number of drawings of women who implied that they had been sexually abused and raped. There was one writing in English – on one hand they said ‘life’ and the other was ‘hell’. And there was also counts of days like you see in prisons at times all over the world where people count how many days and how many nights they have been detained.

“We have interviewed people, we have seen people who are neglected, abused and with these drawings it’s obvious to us that this is a place where people are unlawfully detained and seriously abused,” she said.

She says those interviewed are describing situations of the “worst you can imagine.”

“Starting from not having food and water and this was obvious from the first time we went to these centres, as soon as the gates were open people ran to the grounds outside and started eating grass and leaves, so it was obvious that people were not getting enough to eat.

“We have allegations of gang rapes and sexual abuse. We also have information about beatings, very severe beatings leading to the death of people,” she said.

Ms Pilorge says during many public holidays and particularly Water Festival, the Cambodian Government “wishes to maintain its image of the ‘Kingdom of Wonder’ and therefore the government continues to detain people who they believe contradict that image.

You can find the full story at the Connect Asia website: http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/connectasia

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