The Interior Ministry’s General Department of Prisons (GDP) has assured the public that the health situation of prisoners in Cambodia will be evaluated, after officials in the department tested positive for COVID-19 after the “November 28 community incident”.
Lieutenant General Nuth Savna, GDP department spokesman, told Khmer Times that they have partnered with other agencies including the UN Resident Coordinator Pauline Tamesis and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to assess and respond to the situation inside the prison facilities.
He said the evaluations would be done after Prey Sar prison officers complete their mandatory quarantine following a visit to the prison by GDP director-general Lieutenant General Chhem Savuth who tested positive for the virus late last month.
“We have been working hard with our developing partners namely the UN Resident Coordinator in Cambodia and the ICRC. In the next few days, after the quarantine, we will meet with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding health in prisons in relation to the pandemic,” he said.
Lt Gen Savna admitted that there are prisoners experiencing flu-like symptoms. However, the department is closely and regularly monitoring them. He added that this is the flu season.
Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said yesterday: “I have brought up the issue with health officials and they are seriously looking into the matter (health of prisoners). So far, from the information I have, there was no one who made direct or indirect contact with the positive case.”
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (Licadho) called on the government yesterday to take immediate action to secure the health of prisoners by conducting COVID-19 tests and implementing proper hygiene and social distancing measures.
Licadho said in a statement: “Given the extreme overcrowding in Cambodia’s prisons, lack of access to adequate medical treatment as well as basic necessities such as soap and clean water to practice safe hygiene, the almost 40,000 people imprisoned in Cambodia are at grave risk of contracting and potentially dying from the virus that causes COVID-19.”
The group urged the authorities to treat the prisoners equally with the right to health by providing adequate healthcare.
“We call on the Cambodian authorities to take urgent measures to protect the right to life and health of everyone deprived of their liberty in Cambodia,” it added.
On November 28, the government announced that Lt Gen Savuth, his wife and family members tested positive for COVID-19 which was declared as the first community transmission in the Kingdom.
The government immediately closed down establishments and conducted COVID-19 testing to those who came in contact with those who tested positive in relation to what it referred to as the “November 28 community incident”.