Monitoring & Protection

Prisons Project

ensuring the rights of an often forgotten population
LICADHO poster
Cambodian prisons are typically overcrowded

LICADHO’s prison project is charged with monitoring 18 of Cambodia’s 28 civilian prisons, and providing a variety of services to inmates within these prisons – from paralegal aid to social assistance to medical treatment. Information gathered during prison visits is used to advocate for better prison conditions and for action in specific cases.

Prisoners in Cambodia live in appalling conditions. The government allots only 2,800 riel (about $0.70 USD) to each prisoner for food. Water is often unsafe to drink and scarce; some prisoners receive as little as five liters per day for washing and drinking. Prisons are also overcrowded, with as little as 0.7 square meters of space per prisoner. Those who break prison rules can be shackled, beaten or kept in their cells for weeks on end. New prisoners are often subject to initiation beatings, which are carried out by groups of inmates designated and directed by guards - so-called “prisoner self-management committees.” The illegal use of forced prison labor for private contractors has also been a problem in recent years.

Inside prison walls, life is dominated by corruption. There is a price tag attached to every amenity imaginable, from sleeping space to recreation time. Those who can't afford to pay are forced to endure the most squalid conditions.

Cambodia's overburdened court system means that pretrial detainees are frequently held beyond the legal time limits prescribed by law. This problem is compounded by the fact that Cambodia has few legal aid lawyers, and as a result, some detainees do not have legal representation. Those who do secure representation find that their lawyers simply have no time to meet with them before trial - they have too many clients. Other detainees may be tried in absentia – in their initial trial or on appeal – if they do not have the means to pay for transport to their trial or appeal.

Some detainees suffer other rights abuses prior to imprisonment, including arrest without a warrant and torture by the police. In 2012, roughly one out of every 11 pretrial detainees interviewed by LICADHO reported being tortured in police custody.

And the abuses do not stop at the prison gates, or at the end of a prisoner's sentence. Each year, scores of prisoners are kept in prison after the expiration of their sentences, usually due to corruption demands. Meanwhile, family members are also confronted by corruption when they try to visit loved ones: the bribery costs associated with a prison visit can easily run to half of the average Cambodian's monthly wage.

LICADHO prison researchers regularly monitor the following prisons: Police Judiciare (PJ), Correctional Center 1 (“CC1”), CC2, CC3, CC4, Kandal (Takhmao), Kampong Speu, Kampong Som, Kampot, Koh Kong, Siem Reap, Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Kampong Cham, Pursat, Kampong Thom, Svay Rieng and Kampong Chhnang.

Periodic monitoring is also provided at the Pailin provincial prison and at the Toul Sleng military prison in Phnom Penh.

What we do

LICADHO believes that regular visits by prison researchers deter abuses in prison and make it easier for LICADHO to intervene when they do occur. LICADHO's prison activities include:

LICADHO's prison researchers also monitor living conditions in the prisons, looking at issues such as the quality of food, water, sanitation, the size and cleanliness of living areas, and exercise for prisoners outside of their cells. Information about prison conditions and any violations of prisoners' rights are compiled for LICADHO reports and used for other advocacy purposes.

LICADHO is currently the only NGO in Cambodia with access to prisons that regularly shares its findings with the public.

"Early years behind bars" Project
assisting small children and pregnant women in Cambodian prisons

Child of a prisoner
Child of a prisoner

Under Cambodian prison law, children are allowed to stay in prison with their incarcerated mothers until the age of three. They often stay longer. Though prison is not an ideal setting for a young child, it is occasionally the only option when there are no family members willing to take custody.

Unfortunately, children and pregnant women living in prisons are routinely denied critical access to basic health care, adequate nutrition and education. Children are too often deprived of their most basic children rights. Prison authorities only allocate an additional 1400 riel ($0.35) per child for food and other basic needs. Children, isolated from the rest of the world and badly nourished, acquire severe developmental problems and have a difficult time adjusting to society once they leave prison.

What we do