Rhona Smith, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, has recommended that the Phnom Penh Municipal Social Affairs Centre, better known as Prey Speu, be overhauled or shut down.
Smith made the recommendation in her annual report submitted at the 42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which is being held from Monday until September 27.
She said she visited the facility, also known as the Por Sen Chey Vocation Training Centre, in May and noted that the number of people staying there had decreased significantly.
“[People] were held in the centre against their will and/or on the basis of their disability, raising serious concerns about arbitrary detention, lack of adequate care and violations of the rights of persons with disabilities,” Smith wrote in her report.
There were even reports of someone dying in the centre, she claimed, with the case not being fully investigated.
She recommended an independent investigation and an in-depth review of the centre be carried out, including on whether it “should continue to exist at all”.
If Prey Speu was to be a place of support for people with disabilities, she said, it was essential that Cambodia complied with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
A disability should in no case justify the deprivation of liberty, and persons with disabilities should be supported to live within communities rather than be segregated, she said.
Smith said such a facility should be closer to the centre of Phnom Penh, and those who were placed there should be able to freely access and leave it of their own accord.
“As currently set up, the centre continues to operate as a place of arbitrary detention and should be closed,” Smith insisted.
However, Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation spokesperson Touch Channy on Wednesday denied Prey Speu was a “detention centre”.
He said those placed there were beggars, the homeless, the mentally ill, the elderly and the destitute.
“If we don’t [put them there], what can they do for themselves? Some of them were just wandering around with nowhere to go and no one to take care of them.
“When we bring them there, at least we have someone to care for them and give them at least three meals a day,” Channy said.
People could get life-skills training at the centre and could leave when they were ready, he said.
Channy said the centre’s population was irregular because local authorities brought between two and 30 people there every day, with some also leaving.
Those placed there could leave when the centre found their family or knew that they had somewhere to go, or when their identity had been ascertained by their local authorities, he said.
However, he said some refused to leave the centre as they did not have anywhere else to go.
“Prey Speu is not a detention centre. It is just a temporary centre for them. We did not arrest them – it was the local authorities that collected them while on patrol to ensure public order. We just receive and put them in a controlled facility,” Channy said.
Smith’s Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia report covered a wide range of issues – from the Kingdom’s current political and human rights situation to the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
It also mentioned the release of Kem Sokha, the president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), as the first of 22 recommendations in her annual report.
Smith appeared pleased with some areas of the SDGs – part of the government’s Rectangular Strategy Phase IV. Among them were initiatives to improve transparency and efficiency in public institutions.
She also acknowledged improvements in the 20-page report, which a government official described as “balanced”.