July 20, 2010

IV. Abuses against Sex Workers

Sex workers working in the parks and on the streets of Phnom Penh report they face a wide range of abuses at the hands of the authorities. These include arbitrary detention, violation of due process rights, beatings, physical violence, rape, sexual harassment, forced labor, extortion, confiscation of their belongings, and other ill-treatment. Perpetrators are police officers, municipal park guards, district security guards, and staff and guards at Social Affairs offices and centers. In the provincial towns of Battambang and Sisophon in Banteay Meanchey, and Siem Reap, Human Rights Watch found widespread police extortion but fewer incidents of police violence and arbitrary detention than in Phnom Penh. Abuses in Phnom Penh are longstanding, as is the pattern of impunity which allows them to continue. A 2002 study by the Cambodian Prostitutes Union found that 72 percent of a sample of 50 sex workers surveyed in the Toul Kork and Russey Keo areas of Phnom Penh had faced some human rights violations by police, and all had witnessed such violations.[69]

During sweeps, some police officers rob or extort money from sex workers, beat and sexually assault them. In government centers where sex workers are arbitrarily detained, guards have raped and beaten them.

Those involved in sex work voluntarily, victims of trafficking, and children in sex work all face police abuses. None of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that police asked them any questions to determine whether they might be victims of trafficking, or whether they are underage. Sex work is classified as one of the worst forms of child labor, and no one under 18 should be permitted to be engaged in such work. Under international law, governments have a duty to identify victims of trafficking and children involved in the worst forms of child labor and refer them to appropriate services.[70]

Police in Cambodia operate at commune, district, and municipal or provincial levels. The specialized Department Against Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection operates at the municipal level. This department regularly conducts investigations into trafficking and raids on establishments like brothels and massage parlors. However, the police charged with conducting street sweeps against sex workers, homeless people, drug-users and street children are usually public order police operating at the municipal, district, and commune levels.

Street Harassment and Abuses

The main problem for me is police harassment. Police officers have been chasing and arresting the sex workers at the park almost every single night… The most brutal police officers from Wat Phnom commune police. They are widely known among the sex worker as most violent and brutal. Sometimes, the police officers shoot from a sling shot to disperse us when they find several of us gathering at one spot. I am very scared about police beating me up, so I stay alert all the time at the park. I run hard to escape from the police when they come.
— Makara, interviewed in August 2009 in Phnom Penh.

Sex workers play a “cat and mouse” game with police, security guards, and public park security guards in order to avoid arrest, beatings, and extortion. Kolab, a 29-year-old street-based sex worker in Toul Kork district said:

The police say that we are like chickens running here and there when they chase us from the street. When I see the police from Toul Kork coming, I walk to the other side of the road, which is covered by a different police district. Then when I see the police from Russey Keo district coming, I run to the Toul Kork side of the street. This way, I escape arrest. The police from Toul Kork come to arrest us, while the police from Russey Keo come to beat us up.[71]

Officers from Wat Phnom commune police use crude slingshots firing rocks to chase sex workers away from the park. Minea explained, “The small rock from the slingshot hit me on my shoulder five months ago while I was at the park near the Old Market. After several days the bruises disappeared after I applied balm oil on them.”[72] Chantou, describing an incident in July 2009 said, “A ball from a slingshot of the police hit my arm two weeks ago. It was painful.”[73]

Police sometimes force sex workers to perform sexual or degrading acts with their clients as a “show.” In April 2008, Dara, Any, and Srey Na witnessed four armed police officers force another sex worker and her client to perform sexual intercourse at gun point at the park near the Old Market. Following the incident, the police freed them.[74]

Some sex workers say that security guards in public parks, who work under the authority of the Phnom Penh Municipality are more violent than police officers.[75] Nika, age 28, said she was talking on the phone at 11:30 p.m. in October 2009 when several uniformed park security guards beat her because she was too slow to follow their orders to move to the dark area of the park. She said:

First one guard came and kicked me and said “Why?” Then three other guards came. Two guards held my arms while the other two beat me. They slapped me in the face. They seemed a bit drunk. They beat me with bamboo sticks and their radio on my head and all over. They ripped my clothes. The police came by, but they didn’t do anything, the guards continued to beat me for almost half an hour. Many people saw but everyone was too scared to intervene. The head of the security told the other guard if they see me there again, they should beat me to death.[76]

Both police and park guards commonly threaten and intimidate sex workers. They threaten them with further violence if they dare to come back to the park or the street again, or if they are caught engaging in sex work. Transgender women also face threats on account of their gender identity and gender expression. A male-to-female transgender sex worker said:

Sometimes the police say, “A-khtoey [a disparaging word for a transgender person] you fuck up the ass. You have HIV/AIDS and you infect other people. You deserve to be shot.”[77]

Abuses during Arrest and in Police Custody

The prosecution, arrest, or detention of any person shall not be done except in accordance with the law.
— Article 38, Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia, September 21, 1993.

Cambodia’s Criminal Procedure Law provides that a person may be arrested without a warrant during or immediately after the commission of a crime.[78] However, though solicitation is illegal as described above, it is not illegal to be a sex worker in Cambodia, and one’s status as a sex worker is not a ground for arrest. Nonetheless sex workers face the risk of unlawful or arbitrary arrest every day. Few, if any sex workers that are arrested are ever charged with any prostitution-related offense.

A person who is remanded in custody shall be immediately informed of the reasons for such a decision.[79] Under Cambodia law, the maximum duration of any police custody is 48 hours.[80] Criminal suspects are only entitled to meet with a lawyer or another person 24 hours after they have been taken into police custody.[81]

Under Cambodia’s new Penal Code, someone who illegally arrests or detains someone may be subject to imprisonment of up to 10 years if the detention lasts more than a month; 3 to 5 years if the detention lasts less than one month; and 1 to 3 years if the detention lasts less than 48 hours.[82] If the unlawful detention involves the use of torture or cruelty, the punishment increases to 15-30 years.[83]

The arrests of sex workers are often illegal and arbitrary. Sex workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that they are rarely told why they are being detained and whether they have been charged with any offence. Sex workers are often scared to ask questions. Kanha, was amongst a group of five sex workers Human Rights Watch met immediately after the Municipal Social Affairs Office released them in August 2009. She said:

We are afraid and worried when police arrest us, so we do not dare to ask the police officer any question why we got arrested. We know that if we ask more or speak too much we got beaten up or got slapped more. At the park, the police told us that if we are prostitutes we get arrested.[84]

Another sex worker, Nita, 18-years-old, arrested from the park by Tonle Basak commune police around July 2009, told Human Rights Watch: “When I arrived at the police station, I verbally protested to the police officer, asking why I am arrested and taken here. The policeman, without telling me a reason, slapped me five times.”[85]

Police sometimes inform sex workers during arrest that prostitution itself is illegal, even though soliciting is the only crime sex workers may have committed that could be used to justify their arrest. But police rarely if ever charge sex workers for solicitation.[86]

None of the sex workers we spoke with who had been detained or arrested was aware of any formal charges having been lodged against them. Each of them had been detained an average of two times.

While some sex workers are held at the police station and released without facing any paperwork or charges, in other cases, sex workers told Human Rights Watch that police had recorded their personal details and ordered them to put their thumbprint on statements written by the police. Sex workers said police recorded their personal details (name, age, date of birth, where they are from, parents’ name) and photographed them. It is possible police may have written down something else about the reason for the arrest before asking sex workers to thumbprint it, but they said were never told what was written there exactly.

Many sex workers do not know what they are signing, and say they are not told why they are being detained or what offence they have supposedly committed. They have no access to legal counsel nor to anyone else who might represent their interests, and no opportunity to challenge their arrest and detention.

Violence, sometimes severe, usually accompanies arrests. Sex workers told Human Rights Watch how police detained them using excessive force by beating and kicking them, slapping them in the face, hitting them with sticks, guns, or radios, or dragging them by their arms or their hair onto motorbikes. Uniformed district security guards and public park guards also beat sex workers before handing them over to police or letting them go.[87]

Leakhena, age 35, arrested in August 2009 in Wat Phnom park, described her arrest by a police officer. She recalled:

Around midnight, a policeman drove his motorbike into the park to chase the sex workers away. He caught me, grabbed me by my hair, and dragged me onto his motorbike. He accused me of trying to escape arrest and took me to Wat Phnom police station.[88]

Police beat sex workers with their fists or sticks, shock them with electric shock batons, and kick and slap those who resist arrest. Harsher treatment is inflicted on those caught while trying to escape from the police, including using their guns to intimidate sex workers. Malis described an incident in May 2009 when police in Daun Penh district used electric shock batons against other sex workers:

I saw two police officers on a motorbike trying to shock sex workers about three months ago. I also saw police officers using electric batons against sex workers during Khmer New Year this year [April 2009].[89]

One sex worker interviewed by Human Rights Watch said her arm has not been fully functional since the police shocked her with an electric baton during her arrest more than five years ago in Toul Kork district.[90]

Those who are HIV positive may be subject to particularly vehement humiliation and violence. For instance, Neary, a male-to-female transgender sex worker arrested in April 2009 from the park near the Old Market said, “When I told the police that I am living with AIDS and I need to take ARVs, the police beat me more and accused me of going around infecting other people.”[91]

Children, especially 16- or 17-year-old sex workers, are also amongst those picked up in the sweeps, and who also face abuse. However, instead of assisting children picked up to transit out of prostitution, police generally mete out the same sort of abusive treatment as they do toward adults.

Nita, age 17, told Human Rights Watch about her arrest by Tonle Basak commune police in July 2009:

At the park, uniformed police officers from Tonle Basak commune forced me and two friends into their car. When we arrived at the police station, I protested to police there about the arrest. A police officer slapped me five times. When the policeman ordered me and the others to go upstairs I was a bit slow, so he hit me on the head with his radio.[92]

Police beat, kick, or slap detainees, especially those who do not follow police orders or are slow to respond to questions. Sex workers said the police at the Wat Phnom commune in Daun Penh district are commonly violent. Neary, a male-to-female transgender sex worker arrested in April 2009 described being tortured by these police:

Three police officers beat me up seriously at Wat Phnom commune police station after I was taken from the park. One of the police officers pointed his gun at my head and pulled the trigger, but the bullet did not fire. They kicked my neck, my waist, and hit my head and my body with a broom stick. It lasted about half an hour. I begged them not to beat me. The police officers were cruel and they did not tell me any reason why they did this to me.[93]

Cambodia ’s Penal Code prohibits torture as an offence punishable by seven to twenty years’ imprisonment, with lengthier terms for aggravated circumstances or if the torture was committed by a public official. [94]

Sex workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported that police raped them and some witnessed police raping other sex workers. One sex worker told how she was gang raped by police in detention in September 2007:

Five plain-clothed police took me from the Independence Monument Park with my two friends to the police station near Doeum Kor Market (Phnom Penh Municipal Police Commissariat’s Central Office Against Crime). At the police station, four police officers questioned us. Then they pushed me into a room where there was a folding bed—it is for detaining criminal suspects. I was raped by five police officers on the first night and by six other police officers on the second night. They beat me while raping me because I protested.[95]

Police sometimes rape sex workers in exchange for their release, particularly if they do not have any money and are considered attractive. Chantha, who was arrested in July 2009 from the park near Independence Monument, said that the police demanded sex with her in exchange for her release or she would be sent to a NGO shelter. She refused the demand, and when the police officer went to ask other officers to buy condoms, she managed to escape.[96]

Other studies provide further evidence that police violence is widespread. A 2006 USAID-funded study carried out by foreign academics together with local sex worker organizations reported that approximately half of 1000 female and male-to-female transgender sex workers surveyed in Phnom Penh reported being beaten by police. One-third reported being gang raped by police.[97] The study notes, “Police represent the sex worker’s greatest threat, not only because many harass, beat, rape, and steal from them, but also because they do not protect them from attacks perpetrated by others.”[98] A 2002 study by the Cambodian Prostitutes Union found that human rights violations by police included beatings, rape, arbitrary arrest and detention, being forced to clean toilets, give massages and give money to the police.[99]

“Lous” in Khmer means paying a bribe. Sex workers described how police demanded a lous in return for releasing them from police custody. If they do not pay the bribe, police will send them to the custody of MOSAVY or one of the NGOs. Every sex worker interviewed by Human Rights Watch, including the children, had to pay a lous to the police on at least one occasion, the majority more than once. Sex workers either pay it directly, or friends, relatives or their employer comes to the police station and pays it to secure their release. The price ranges from US$10 to $200.[100] Other detainees, such as people who use drugs, also face this treatment by police.[101] A transgender woman described an incident in late 2007 where police from the Daun Penh district police station arrested her:

I told them I didn’t have $50 but they didn’t believe me. They put me in a cell. It was hot, dark, and hard to breathe. I had no water. I had to stay there for five days. In the daytime they’d make me clean the office and the toilet but then put me back in that cell. Finally I agreed to pay them $50.[102]

Twenty-year-old Tola described her first arrest in July 2009:

At the [Daun Penh district] police station, police asked us if I have a “me-ka” [manager]. Police allowed me and other sex workers to call our me-kas to come pay the lous in exchange for our release. Fifteen out of twenty [sex workers] were released after their managers came to pay the police. The rest of us were kept at the police station for three days before being sent to the Social Affairs office and then an NGO shelter.

The next month, police arrested Tola again and this time police detained her at the police station for one night before sending her to the Social Affairs Office and then an NGO shelter because she had no money to pay the police. She said:

The head of the police station asked us if we found someone to pay the lous for our release. He said that if we pay him $50 each, we will be freed. We told him that we don’t have any money. Because we didn’t have any money, the police contacted the Social Affairs officer to come to get us.[103]

Four other sex workers corroborated Tola’s story when interviewed at the office of an NGO.

Sex workers in Siem Reap also said they paid bribes to police for release. In August 2009 a 22-year-old sex worker spent two days in police custody after the police raided the bar where she worked in Siem Reap town. “My parents paid a police officer $50 when I was in the custody of the provincial police,” she said.[104]

In another August 2009 raid on a foreign-owned bar, hostesses alleged that the Phnom Penh Anti-Human Trafficking Police stole money and tried to collect bribes. The hostesses claimed the entire bar staff was detained and sent to the municipal Social Affairs office, even though none of them were sex workers, nor were they “dancing naked,” as alleged by the police. One hostess, Serey, said:

Around 8:00 pm, two plain clothes police officers came drinking at the bar. The hostesses were in sexy dresses but no one was naked, and some of us were dancing to Khmer songs. Around 9 p.m., a large group of mixed authorities arrived, including the commune chiefs from Sangkat Phsa Kandal and Sangkat Phsa Chas, district officials from three or four districts and police officers. They came inside the bar, took our photograph, and told us to stay still and not to move. They said we were dancing naked and called us prostitutes. Some police officers opened the cash drawer and searched our wallets and attempted to take the money, but stopped after their commander told them to stop. Some of us lost some money.

According to Serey, all of the women including the cashier, cleaner, cook, bartender, waitresses, hostesses, and security guard were sent directly to the municipal office of Social Affairs. She explained:

As many of us kept arguing with the police about the fact that we are not prostitutes, the police officer said that if we are good people we should not have been in the police car. When we were in the car, the police said that if we wanted to be free, we need to pay them $200 each and get a relative to come secure our release.

Police arresting sex workers often steal personal belongings, such as money, mobile phones, and jewelry. The vast majority of sex workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch had cash or items stolen. Because stealing by police is so common, sex workers try to hide their money. But police, often male, do invasive cavity searches to search them thoroughly, including their underwear. Police give various reasons for taking sex workers’ personal property, such as saying the belongings will be returned once they leave police custody,[105] or that the money they steal is to pay for the petrol in their motorbikes which they use to chase and arrest sex workers every day.[106] In no case documented by Human Rights Watch, did sex workers report that police returned money or goods to their lawful owner.

A common degrading treatment by police is forcing sex workers to clean the toilet at police stations in Phnom Penh, especially at Wat Phnom and Tonle Basak stations.[107] For example, a male-to-female transgender sex worker picked up in October 2008 twice said Wat Phnom police forced her to clean the toilet.[108] Sometimes, police officers force sex workers to choose between being sent to a Social Affairs center (where they know they will be detained), giving the officer a massage, or cleaning the toilet. For instance, Nimol, arrested in late 2007 with ten other sex workers by Tonle Basak commune police said:

Three other sex workers and I had no money to pay the police. Seven other sex workers paid the police and left the station. We begged the police to free us. The police asked me to clean the toilet and the others to massage them. Then the police freed us.[109]

Police ask sex workers to massage them or dance for them. Sometimes they ask them to have sex with them (as mentioned above under rape). Chanthou, arrested in late 2007 said:

A police officer at Wat Phnom commune police station put me in a room after I cleaned the office and the toilet. The policeman played music and ordered me to dance. He watched me dance, at the same time beating me with a stick on my shoulder and my head.[110]

Sex workers also describe how police parade them in front of film crews and cameras without their consent. Srey Keo, a male-to-female transgender sex worker picked up in August 2009 and held at Wat Phnom police station said:

Police kept me locked in the toilet from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. and when I got out, they exposed me to TV cameras and journalists. There were about 25 of us [transgender and non-transgender sex workers] there. We were then all sent to the Social Affairs office.[111]

Dara and Any, arrested in July 2009, said:

As we walked out of the door of [Wat Phnom commune] police station [in Daun Penh district], several journalists were waiting and took our photograph. Our photo appeared in the press a day or so later. We felt so ashamed.[112]

Detention, Bribes, and Harassment at the Municipal Social Affairs Office

In the provinces, police generally release sex workers straight into the custody of NGOs. Sometimes, staff from MOSAVY interview sex workers at the police station but no sex worker interviewed by Human Rights Watch had been placed in the custody of MOSAVY.

In Phnom Penh, however, degrading treatment of sex workers continues after police transfer them to the custody of the Municipal Social Affairs office in Phnom Penh. In January 2010, the Municipal Social Affairs’ Department’s deputy director of social health said that it had registered 469 sex workers in 2009, up from 415 in 2008.[113]

Many sex workers detained in Phnom Penh told Human Rights Watch how they are kept in a smelly and dirty room at the Municipal Social Affairs Office, located on Street 163 near Mohamontrei Pagoda. They are held together with other detainees including beggars, homeless people, street children, and people who use drugs. While the office is not an official detention facility, women, children, and transgender women are detained in the same room for periods ranging from several hours to two days before being released or transferred to an NGO, or to the Prey Speu Social Affairs center on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.[114]

In Phnom Penh, the municipal Social Affairs office generally will not release sex workers delivered to them by police unless an NGO offering support services is willing to take custody of them (regardless of age), by signing a form for their release at the municipal office.[115] As far as adult sex workers are concerned, this practice of requiring NGOs to sign for sex workers has no legal basis. Since the sex workers detained at the office have, most probably, not been charged with any offense, the adults should be free to leave the municipal Social Affairs office whenever they wish, and should not be required to be signed over to the custody of NGOs. The standards are somewhat different for children, whose release could be either into the care of a guardian or a suitable organization that protects children.

Since May 2010, the staff at the Phnom Penh Municipal Social Affairs Office has asked sex workers to sign an agreement before they are released into the custody of NGOs. Most sex workers agree to sign the agreement because they are scared and want to get out of the custody of the authorities. A copy of one of these agreements obtained by Human Rights Watch states:

I pledge before the Phnom Penh Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation that in the future I will stop carrying out indecent acts that affect morality, tradition, and public order; and ensure that I will not commit such act a second time; and when the Phnom Penh Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation refers me to an NGO to receive services, I will put all my effort into improving myself to be a good citizen living in society as others do.
If I commit such acts in the future, I take full responsibility before the law and the Phnom Penh Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation.”[116]

It is doubtful that this agreement is accorded any weight under Cambodian law, and it would fail any test under international law. The fact that sex workers have no meaningful alternative but to sign the agreement further undermines any weight it may have. Rather, as a pre-requisite to release from unlawful detention, it simply constitutes another form of unlawful interference with the right to liberty and security.

Sex workers are again subject to violent abuse at the Municipal Social Affairs Office. Several of those who have been detained there tell of one employee, a male amputee, who is particularly abusive, beating detainees and sexually harassing them.Srey Pha, detained overnight in the office in late 2007, said:

An amputee man and two other men came into the room where we were held at night to search people for money. I saw staff taking many people’s money from them...I didn’t have any money. The amputee man beat some people. They made some men take off their clothes… The women were also searched by those male officers…I heard from several friends that the amputee man took women outside [the office] to have sex and then allowed them to go free.[117]

Botum, arrested in June 2008, said:

In June 2008, Chamkar Mon police arrested me and my friends and I was taken to the Social Affairs Office near Mohamontrei Pagoda, where I was kept overnight. A staff member who is missing an arm came to the room at night to tell us not to make noise and to remove any [personal] items we had. The amputee man ordered his staff to search everyone for money. He hit me with his belt two times after he searched me and found some drugs. During the search, I saw him order a male detainee to take his clothes off in front of everyone.

Another sex worker who has been detained several times at the Social Affairs Office in Phnom Penh described an incident in July 2009:

The amputee man came into the room and told us we would be sent to an NGO, there was no other choice. He then looked for any beautiful women—he told one if she wanted to leave, she should come out and massage him. She went with him and didn’t come back.[118]

Others, including homeless people arrested in street sweeps, have also reported to local human rights workers how a male amputee working there used violence against detainees.[119] Sex workers also told Human Rights Watch that officials at the Social Affairs office ask them for money in exchange for their release or in order to transfer them to a nearby NGO-run shelter which is “easier to leave from.”[120] Thida, a 29-year-old sex worker, described her detention at the Social Affairs Office in mid-2009:

A female staff member asked us if we had money or someone to come pay the lous. I got my former landlord to come pay her $20. She freed me from the office without sending me to any NGO run shelter.[121]

Abuses at Government Social Affairs Centers [122]

Following detention at police stations and the municipal Social Affairs office in Phnom Penh, sex workers are either transferred to the custody of NGOs or to the Phnom Penh Municipal Social Affairs Center—commonly called Prey Speu.[123]In recent years, when public pressure alleging abuses in government centers has mounted, the government has responded by releasing sex workers detained in centers such Prey Speu or transferring them to NGOs.[124]For a period of time, from July 2009 until about May 2010, few sex workers were detained at Prey Speu and most went to NGOs.[125]

The government’s position has been that people stay at Prey Speu on a voluntarily basis, quoting an August 2008 directive by the minister of social affairs forbidding involuntary detention at their Social Affairs centers.[126] However, Human Rights Watch has received information that between July 2009 and June 2010 at least 20 sex workers were detained against their will at Prey Speu for periods of time ranging from a few days to a month.[127] Eight of these sex workers were held there in May and June 2010. Although this is a significant decrease in the number of sex workers detained there since 2008, the decrease is largely due to ongoing advocacy efforts by sex worker groups and the fact that there are several NGOs willing to receive sex workers from MOSAVY. Others groups vulnerable to arbitrary detention but that have less advocacy support, such as the homeless, continue to be held at Prey Speu. Sex workers detained at Prey Speu in June 2010 told Human Rights Watch that Social Affairs center staff warned them that they could be detained for up to three months in Prey Speu if they were arrested again and sent to the municipal Social Affairs office a second time.[128] This threat, combined with the fact that at least eight people were involuntarily detained in May and June 2010, undermine the plausibility of government claims that confinement in Prey Speu is purely voluntary.

The fact that individuals are involuntarily detained at Social Affairs centers without due process renders the detentions arbitrary and illegal under international law. Those held in the centers, whether sex workers or others, go through no legal process before being sent to the centers. There is no clear legal basis on which they are transferred and then detained at the centers. At no stage during their detention do detainees have access to legal representation. There is no judicial review of their detention nor is there an opportunity for detainees to appeal their detention. Illegal detention or unlawful deprivation of liberty is a crime in Cambodia, whether committed by state or non-state actors.[129]

Up until July 2008, another government Social Affairs Center, Koh Kor (also known as Koh Rumdoul), was also used to detain sex workers, homeless people, beggars, and people who use drugs. Koh Kor, located on an island in Saang district of Kandal province, is currently inactive, though one or two staff remain living there so it has not completely closed.

Persistent allegations of abuses at Prey Speu and Koh Kor centers make it crucial that they both be closed permanently. Human rights organizations have documented and reported serious abuses in both centers.[130] LICADHO’s 2009 submission to the UN Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review process describes the human rights abuses committed at these two centers:

Conditions at both [Prey Speu and Koh Kor] centers were abysmal—even worse than exist in Cambodian prisons—and included gross overcrowding and lack of adequate food, clean drinking water, and medical care. In June 2008, LICADHO gained access to the Koh Kor center, despite efforts to prevent this by staff there, and photographed hungry men, women, and children detained in padlocked rooms.
At Prey Speu center, detainees were routinely subjected to sadistic violence. Guards raped female prisoners and severely beat detainees who tried to escape or complained about conditions, according to former detainees interviewed by LICADHO. At least three detainees, possibly more, were beaten to death by guards at Prey Speu during 2006-2008, and five others reportedly committed suicide, according to LICADHO investigations.[131]

Human Rights Watch’s interviews with sex workers detained in Prey Speu and Koh Kor confirm the abuses and inhumane conditions documented by LICADHO and other human rights organizations. Human Rights Watch’s January 2010 report, “Skin on the Cable,” also documented rapes of female detainees (sex workers and non-sex workers) inside Prey Speu.[132] Sex workers told Human Rights Watch how they experienced and witnessed rape, beatings and sexual harassment in Prey Speu and Koh Kor. Srey Pha, age 27, described her experience at Prey Speu in June 2008:

I spent two days in Prey Speu detention. It was like hell. I was among 30 people in one locked room of men, women, and children. No toilet in the room, but two buckets served as toilet for all of us to share. There were blood stains all over the walls. I could not sleep at night as I was so scared and worried. I received little food to eat in two meals per day—rice with Prahok (fermented fish paste) and some tamarind. No plate or spoon, I had to eat from a plastic bag. At night, the guard seriously beat up a man who tried to escape.

Detainees at Koh Kor had similar experiences. Botum, age 26, described her detention at Koh Kor in June 2008:

It was difficult in Koh Kor because I received very little food to eat…I was put in the same room with around 40 people who were old, young, women, men, beggars, mentally-ill people. The toilet was in the room. We were told that we would be in Koh Kor from one year to three years. When I heard this, I cried every day and felt that I want to die.[133]

Sex workers described how guards beat and kicked them and others who did not follow their orders, and how those who tried to escape would be beaten with particular severity. One sex worker said she was kicked by the guard when he opened the door.[134]Chantou, detained in June 2008 in Prey Speu center for one month told Human Rights Watch:

A guard ordered me to go collect water. I didn’t feel well, so I refused his order. He beat me two times on my waist with a wooden handle … Another time, a guard hit me severely on my shoulder with a big wooden handle after they caught my husband[135] and me trying to escape. My right hand became weak after the beating.[136]

Guards were known to threaten to kill people to prevent them from escaping, and one woman miscarried as a result of beatings. Malis, a 28-year-old detained in Prey Speu in November 2007 said:

I was kicked three times by a guard who is the son of the key keeper at the center after I refused his order to clear the grass. I told him that I can’t do the work as I had morning sickness from my pregnancy. I was three months pregnant. Since then I had pain in my abdomen and I miscarried when I returned home after a week’s detention in Prey Speu.[137]

Detainees told Human Rights Watch that guards raped women in the presence of other detainees in Prey Speu center. One sex worker detained there in early 2008 said that three guards came inside the room at night to rape two women sleeping near her. The two women left the next day.[138]At both centers, guards would ask women to have sex with them in exchange for their release. A 28-year-old sex worker detained in November 2007 in Prey Speu center said:

The guard approached me and asked me to have sex with him and other four guards. He pointed to the four guards and said that if I agreed to have sex with all of them they will free me from the center. I told them I was sick, so they did not force me.[139]

Children have been among those detained in Prey Speu and Koh Kor.[140] As mentioned above, children should never be detained solely based on their involvement in sex work, and should instead be offered appropriate child protection and assistance to transition out of such work, such as to the custody of a respected NGO that offers child-friendly services in line with international standards.

Human Rights Watch believes that from time to time people are still effectively detained at Prey Speu against their will and unable to leave. During an October 2009 visit to Prey Speu by LICADHO and OHCHR, officials from MOSAVY refused to release detainees unless a relative or an NGO representative vouched for their release from the center. If there was no relative or NGO to take custody of them, then they remained in the center for an unspecified period.[141] Similarly, three sex workers detained in Prey Speu in June 2010 were only released upon organizations vouching for them and requesting MOSAVY for their release.[142]

Srey Thea, 22-years-old, was detained in Prey Speu in June 2010. She said officials at the municipal MOSAVY office gave her the choice of being sent to an NGO or to Prey Speu but there was no choice to go home. Srey Thea elected to go to Prey Speu and according to her description, those detained involuntarily at Prey Speu were housed separately from others who volunteer to stay at the center:

At Prey Speu, we were put in a room together with many women. It was crowded and we have to sleep all over the room, almost having no space to move. We had no spare clothes and the center did not provide us with any, so we were wearing the same clothes for those days. The room was not locked, but there were guards in front of the room all the time. If we wanted to use the toilet, we had to ask the guard’s permission. The guard followed us to the toilet so we didn’t escape. The center provides three meals per day… Food is inadequate…People in my room complained about being hungry as there is not enough food to eat. I saw at least one time a young guard beat the hand of an old woman while she was eating.
Women in my room were allowed to leave the room twice per day at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. to take a bath. As I and others in the room did not consent to stay at the center we had to take a bath at the pond. The water at the pond seemed not clean and it gave me a rash. But those who volunteer to stay in the center are allowed to take a bath from running water and are kept in a separate building.[143]

LICADHO has reported that people are threatened with violence if they attempt to leave Prey Speu, and that while they are nominally offered a “choice” to remain voluntarily upon their arrival at the center, it is not a meaningful choice. Once they arrive, they have no real ability to leave since guards are constantly monitoring their movements.

Human Rights Watch attempted to visit Prey Speu on November 5, 2009, however the gates were locked and guards denied access. The guard told Human Rights Watch that prior permission from the Municipal Social Affairs office is required to visit the center. Human Rights Watch requested permission to visit the center in a letter to MOSAVY dated April 19, 2010.However, the government failed to respond.

NGO Shelters and Arbitrary Detention

After processing at the Municipal Social Affairs office, sex workers that are not sent to Prey Speu are sent to NGOs that provide services to sex workers such as counseling, and vocational training. In some cases shelter is offered, though it is not always clear that it is done on a consensual basis. In July and August 2009, sex workers reported to Human Rights Watch that two NGO-run shelters had kept adult sex workers against their will for periods of time ranging from several hours to a few days.[144] One shelter had forced the women to stay in locked rooms.[145] The other has a high wall around the compound, and although the gate is not always locked, shelter staff told the sex workers to stay and they complied, despite wanting to leave.[146]

In addition, sex workers told Human Rights Watch that one of the NGOs did not make arrangements to enable HIV positive sex workers who were detained in its center access antiretroviral (ARV) medicine. At least two sex workers who were on ARV medicine, but who did not have their drugs with them at the time of the arrest by the authorities, were sent to the center in July 2009. They each missed three days worth of medicine as they were unable to access any ARVs at the centre. One of them said they had requested a family member to bring the ARV medicine but the staff did not allow them to contact the family member. Shelter staff released them only after several organizations intervened with the NGO.[147]

A 2007 agreement between some NGOs that provide housing or services to victims of trafficking, and some government entities attempted to address this issue by outlining basic standards of shelters and rights of clients, including an obligation to secure victim consent to remain in a shelter and to allow victims to leave.[148]However, not all organizations signed the agreement and in any case, it is not legally binding.

When interviewed by Human Rights Watch in November 2009, the staff of the two NGOs acknowledged that in the past, staff had sometimes pressured sex workers to stay at the center for a few days in order to counsel them and keep them safe, while encouraging them to take advantage of skills training and other programs offered by the centers. While this may be well-intentioned, if in practice the women wish to leave, but are not free to do so, it amounts to unlawful deprivation of liberty.

While the two NGOs may have effectively prohibited sex workers from leaving their centers on certain occasions in the past, the NGOs stated that their current policy is not to detain anyone and people are free to leave at any time. Human rights groups and sex worker groups confirmed that the practices had changed over time.

One of the organizations caters to abused children, but will accept adult sex workers sent to them by MOSAVY, because “they have nowhere to go.”[149] Licadho has reported that when 12 adult sex workers were detained at the center in July 2009, the staff kept them in a locked room only allowing them out for mealtimes in order to prevent them from running away.[150] In addition to issues raised about practices that amount to unlawful deprivation of liberty, sending adult sex workers to an NGO run shelter for abused children presents problems in any case because both groups have distinct needs for different kinds of support.

[69]Cambodian Prostitutes Union and Cambodian Women’s Development Association, Survey on Police Human Rights Violations of Sex workers in Toul Kouk, Phnom Penh, 2002, p.3-4.

[70]Article 7 of ILO convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor.

[71]Human Rights Watch interview with Kolab, Phnom Penh, August 6, 2009.

[72]Human Rights Watch interview with Minea, Phnom Penh, August 7, 2009.

[73]Human Rights Watch interview with Chanthou, Phnom Penh, August 7, 2009.

[74]Human Rights Watch interview with Any, Srey Na, and Dara, Phnom Penh, July 26, 2009.

[75]Human Rights Watch interview with Nika, Srey Na, Dara, and Dyna, Phnom Penh, November 6, 2009.

[76]Human Rights Watch interview with Nika, Phnom Penh, November 6, 2009.

[77]Human Rights Watch interview with Neary, Phnom Penh, August 8, 2009.

[78]Code of Criminal Procedure, 2007, art. 87.

[79]Code of Criminal Procedure, 2007, art. 97.

[80]Code of Criminal Procedure, art. 96. Judicial police officers may also remand in custody individuals who may provide them with relevant facts if the following provisions are fulfilled: an individual who may provide information refuses to do so, and a written authorization to keep the person in custody has been obtained from a prosecutor.

[81]Code of Criminal Procedure, 2007, art. 98.

[82]Penal Code, art. 253.

[83]Penal Code, art. 254.

[84]Human Rights Watch interview with Kanha, Phnom Penh, August 13, 2009.

[85]Human Rights Watch interview with Nita, Phnom Penh, September 14, 2009.

[86]Human Rights Watch requested information on the number of people charged with soliciting in a letter to the deputy prime minister and minister of interior sent on April 19,2010 (see Appendix), however the minister failed to respond.

[87]Human Rights Watch interview with Srey Keo, Phnom Penh, November 6, 2009.

[88]Human Rights Watch interview with Leakhena, Phnom Penh, August 6, 2009.

[89]Human Rights Watch interview with Malis, Phnom Penh, August 7, 2009.

[90]Human Rights Watch interview with Srey Da, Phnom Penh, August 24, 2009.

[91]Human Rights Watch interview with Sopheavy, Phnom Penh, August 8, 2009.

[92]Human Rights Watch interview with Nita, Phnom Penh, September 14, 2009.

[93]Human Rights Watch interview with Neary, Phnom Penh, November 6, 2009.

[94]Penal Code, arts. 210, 212, and 213. The Code has already been adopted but only part 1 is in force. The remainder of the articles will enter into force one year after its adoption.

[95]Human Rights Watch interview with Linda, Phnom Penh, September 14, 2009.

[96]Human Rights Watch interview with Chantha, Phnom Penh, August 7, 2009.

[97]Jenkins, Carol, CPU, WNU, and Sainsbury, C., “Violence and Exposure to HIV Among Sex Workers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia,” prepared for USAID, March 2006, http://www.hivpolicy.org/Library/HPP001702.pdf, (accessed July 7, 2010), p.5.

[98]Jenkins, p.17.

[99]Cambodian Prostitutes Union and Cambodian Women’s Development Association, Survey on Police Human Rights Violations of Sex workers in Toul Kouk, Phnom Penh, 2002, p.3-4.

[100]Every sex worker interviewed told Human Rights Watch told of paying bribes within this price range.

[101]Human Rights Watch, Skin on the Cable: The Illegal Arrest, Arbitrary Detention and Torture of People Who Use Drugs in Cambodia, January 25, 2010, http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2010/01/25/skin-cable-0

[102]Human Rights Watch interview with Srey Mom, Phnom Penh, November 6, 2009.

[103]Human Rights Watch interview with Tola, Phnom Penh, August 13, 2009.

[104]Human Rights Watch interview with Srey Mey, Siem Reap province, August 21, 2009.

[105]Human Rights Watch interview with Linda, Phnom Penh, September 14, 2009.

[106]Human Rights Watch interview with Makara, Phnom Penh, August 6, 2009.

[107]See for instance Human Rights Watch interview with Kanha, Phnom Penh, August 13, 2009; and Human Rights Watch interview with Dara, Phnom Penh, November 6, 2009.

[108]Human Rights Watch interview with Srey Mom, Phnom Penh, November 6, 2009.

[109]Human Rights Watch interview with Nimol, Phnom Penh, August 14, 2009. Nimol said this was a genuine massage not a sexual massage.

[110]Human Rights Watch interview with Chanthou, Phnom Penh, August 7, 2009.

[111]Human Rights Watch interview with Srey Keo, Phnom Penh, November 6, 2009. Human Rights Watch has collected various local press articles which publish the photographs of sex workers together with the articles on their arrests. For instance: Koh Santepheap Daily, dated July 21, 2009 and Rasmei Kampuche Daily Newspaper, July 22, 2009.

[112]Human Rights Watch interview with Dara and Any, Phnom Penh, July 26, 2009.

[113]Mom Kunthear and Tep Nimol, “Sex worker arrests on the rise,” Phnom Penh Post, January 22, 2010.

[114]Prior to July 2008, detainees at Social Affairs were also sent to the Koh Kor Social Affairs center but this center is not actively receiving any persons at present.

[115]These NGOs include Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, Women’s Network for Unity, Acting for Women in Distressing Situations (AFESIP), the Cambodian Center for the Protection of Children’s Rights (CCPCR), World Hope International, Healthcare Center for Children (HCC) and Hagar. According to our interviews, transgender sex workers picked up in sweeps are directed to their own network, and rarely end up in NGO shelters.

[116]A full copy of the agreement in Khmer is on file with Human Rights Watch.

[117]Human Rights Watch interview with Srey Pha, Phnom Penh, August 14, 2009.

[118]Human Rights Watch interview with Dara, Phnom Penh, November 6, 2009.

[119]Human Rights Watch interview with Licadho, Phnom Penh, November 2, 2009.

[120]Human Rights Watch interview with Thida, Phnom Penh, August 24, 2009.

[121]Human Rights Watch interview with Thida, Phnom Penh, August 24, 2009.

[122]In other provinces, there are additional government Social Affairs centers, however, none of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch were sent to these centers. Instead, police sent sex workers to NGO-run shelters.

[123]Prey Speu is located near Prey Speu village, Chaom Chao commune, Dangkor district of Phnom Penh.

[124]For instance, as a result of the concerns raised by local human rights groups and OHCHR, in late June 2008, MOSAVY released detainees at Koh Kor and Prey Speu.

[125]When LICADHO and OHCHR visited in October 2009 in order to secure the release of around 40 detainees, at least one sex worker was among them.Interview with LICADHO, Phnom Penh, November 3, 2009.

[126]Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation/ National Committee for Resolving Vagabond’s Problems, “Instruction on policies for resolving vagabond’s problems,” Phnom Penh, August 8, 2008, para 6(2). See Ministry of Interior letter to Dr. Kek Galabru, the President, Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), no. 1219 sor.chor.nor, September 25, 2008.

[127]Human Rights Watch was provided information and access to credible records by a reliable source. The identity of the source is confidential.

 

 

[128]Human Rights Watch interview with Srey Tha, Srey Tho, and Srey Thea, Phnom Penh, June, 2010 [exact date withheld].

[129]Penal Code, art. 254.

[130]See LICADHO letter dated June 18, 2008 to HE Sar Kheng, deputy prime minister, chairman of High Level Working Group Against Trafficking in Persons and to HE You Ay, secretary of state of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Chairwoman of National Taskforce Against Trafficking in Persons and LICADHO letter dated October 28, 2008, to HE Sar Kheng, deputy prime minister, chairman of High Level Working Group Against Trafficking in Persons and to HE Ith Som Heng, minister of social affairs, veterans, and youth rehabilitation on “Abuses at Prey Sepu and Koh Kor Social Affairs Centers.

[131]LICADHO letter dated June 18, 2008, to HE Sar Kheng, deputy prime minister, chairman of High Level Working Group Against Trafficking in Persons and to HE You Ay, secretary of state of the ministry of women’s affairs and chairwoman of National Taskforce Against Trafficking in Persons. LICADHO letter dated October 28, 2008, to HE Sar Kheng, deputy prime minister, chairman of High Level Working Group Against Trafficking in Persons and to HE Ith Som Heng, minister of social affairs, veterans and youth rehabilitation on “Abuses at Prey Sepu and Koh Kor Social Affairs Centers.”

[132]Human Rights Watch, Skin on the Cable, pp.42-43.

[133]Human Rights Watch interview with Botum, Phnom Penh, August 14, 2009.

[134]Human Rights Watch interview with Srey Ta, Phnom Penh, August 14, 2009.

[135]Both husband and wife were arrested during a street sweep (they were sleeping on the street) and sent to Prey Speu.

[136]Human Rights Watch interview with Chanthou, Phnom Penh, August 7, 2009.

[137]Human Rights Watch interview with Malis, Phnom Penh, August 7, 2009.

[138]Human Rights Watch interview with Bopha, Phnom Penh, August 6, 2009. Guards raping and then releasing attractive women is also documented in: Human Rights Watch, Skin on the Cable, pp. 43.

[139]Human Rights Watch interview with Malis, Phnom Penh, August 7, 2009.

[140]LICADHO letter dated June 18, 2008 to HE Sar Kheng, deputy prime minister, chairman of High Level Working Group Against Trafficking in Persons and to HE You Ay, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Chairwoman of National Taskforce Against Trafficking in Persons.

[141]Human Rights Watch interview with LICADHO, Phnom Penh, November 3, 2009.

[142]Human Rights Watch interview with Srey Tha, Srey Tho, and Srey Thea, Phnom Penh, June 2010 [exact date withheld].

[143]Human Rights Watch interview with Srey Thea, Phnom Penh, June 2010 [exact date withheld].

[144]Human Rights Watch interviews with A Ny, July 26, 2007;Dara, July 26, 2009; Kolab, August 6, 2009; Mala, August 7, 2009; Tola, August 13, 2009; and Thida, August 24, 2009.

[145]Human Rights Watch interviews with A Ny, July 26, 2007;Dara, July 26, 2009; Kolab, August 6, 2009; Tola, August 13, 2009.

[146]Human Rights Watch interviews with Kolab, August 6, 2009; Mala, August 7, 2009; and Thida, August 24, 2009.

[147]Human Rights Watch interview with Any and Dara, Phnom Penh July 26, 2009. See also Licadho media statement “Punishing the poor: more arrest of street people,” July 26, 2009, http://www.licadho-cambodia.org/pressrelease.php?perm=212&pagenb=0&filter=2009, (accessed July 4, 2010). The NGO in question denied that such an incident had occurred.

[148]Government of Cambodia Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation, and Ministry of Health, Agreement on Guidelines for Practices and Cooperation Between the Relevant Government Institutions and Victim Support Agencies in Cases of Human Trafficking, February 6, 2007, http://www.humantrafficking.org/uploads/updates/Guidelines_for_Victims_Support_Agencies.pdf, (accessed June 16, 2010).

 

[150]Human Rights Watch interview with Any and Dara, Phnom Penh July 26, 2009. See also Licadho media statement “Punishing the poor: more arrest of street people,” July 26, 2009, http://www.licadho-cambodia.org/pressrelease.php?perm=212&pagenb=0&filter=2009, (accessed July 4, 2010).