On April 3, during a confrontation with security forces after she attempted to gain access to Phnom Penh’s cordoned-off Freedom Park, CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua whipped out a small yellow card and began to read out loud her rights in the event of an arrest.
Around the country, however, the intricacies of the Code of Criminal Procedure and articles on arrest and detention are far from common knowledge, and allegations of torture in police stations are rife.
In a bid to make sure that more arrestees are aware of their own rights, the Ministry of Interior and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia (OHCHR) held a workshop on Friday to teach police how to properly conduct arrests.
Each of the approximately 250 officers in attendance received a copy of the same yellow “Arrest Rights Card” that Ms. Sochua used in April. Wan-Hea Lee, OHCHR’s representative in Cambodia, said the cards would also be distributed to police stations around the country, along with posters printed with a list of arrestee rights.
“It is in the interests of everyone, including the police, for there to be increased knowledge, awareness and understanding of rights upon arrest,” Ms. Lee told the group of officers from across the country.
“We know from experience in other countries that when people know their rights, there is better respect for the law—and this, in turn, prevents torture and ill-treatment in police stations.”
The cards explain that arrests cannot take place without reason and that people have a right to access a lawyer 24 hours after their arrest, as well as the right to remain silent and refuse to answer any questions.
Ms. Sochua said that rights violations during arrests were common, due in part to a lack of education among Cambodians and in part to the fact that police do not necessarily care about respecting the rights of arrestees.
“Most of the poor do not see the warrant, or if there is one, the police do not even know what is written clearly. At the police station, questions are geared toward implication and half the population cannot read or write,” she said.
Ith Rady, an undersecretary of state at the Justice Ministry, has worked closely with the OHCHR on a number of workshops to strengthen the judicial sector and said he hoped the arrest cards would help police understand the proper way to conduct an arrest.
“The cards teach not to arrest using violence or force, just inviting people and explaining what they did wrong,” he said.
But Pursat provincial police chief Lieutenant Colonel Mom Lyda, who was attending the workshop, noted that police officials cannot allow concern for the rights of arrestees to put them in danger.
“When we use leaflets to explain that might not work—the suspect may want to escape, so we have to use the gun and threaten to shoot,” he said on the sidelines of the workshop. “Sometimes we use violence, because the suspects fight back.”
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