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RIC Query - Cambodia (13 May 2003)




Response to Information Request Number:CMB03002.OGC
Date:May 13, 2003
Subject:Cambodia: Information on PG Jail in Phnom Penh from 1979- 1981
From:BCIS Resource Information Center
Keywords:Cambodia / Arrested persons / Cruelty / Detained persons / Detention / Dissidents / Freedom of political opinion / Imprisonment / Incommunicado detention / Police custody / Political opposition / Prison personnel / Prisoners of conscience




Provide information on PG Jail in Phnom Penh from 1979-1981, particularly on the activities of prison guards and administrators.


The Resource Information Center was unable to find information on PG Jail, operating in Phnom Penh from 1979 to 1981. However, there is information available on the Police Judiciaire in Phnom Penh, commonly known as PJ prison (AI Mar 2000), and also referred to as the Phnom Penh "civil police prison" (AI Jun 1987, 26). According to a legal advisor to Human Rights Watch on Cambodia, PJ prison was the central police jail in Cambodia and was intended for use as a relatively short-term pre-trial detention facility (Legal Advisor 13 May 2003). However, at that time in Cambodian history, detainees were essentially warehoused for long periods, often without charge, because there was no functioning court system (Author 13 May 2003).

From 1975 to 1979, Cambodia suffered under the well-documented savagery of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot's regime (officially entitled Democratic Kampuchea, DK) was disintegrating by late 1978. In January 1979, the Vietnam-installed People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) government, administered by former DK local official Heng Samrin, took over after the collapse of Pol Pot's government. According to a 1990 Lawyers Committee for Human Rights report:

"There is no comparing the savage days of mass murder of less than a decade ago [under Pol Pot] with the daily deprivation of human rights that persists today [under the PRK government]....But the violations of today are serious and worthy of international condemnation. They involve the routine use of torture by both PRK and Vietnamese authorities, the daily deprivation of human liberty..., and a consistent failure to abide by long-established international norms" (LCHR 1990, 4-5).

In an interview with the Resource Information Center, an advisor to the Documentation Center of Cambodia stated that not much detailed documentation is available on the situation of human rights in Cambodia during the period immediately following the Khmer Rouge years. [The Documentation Center of Cambodia is a Phnom Penh-based non-governmental human rights research institute established in January 1995 through Yale University. The Center has been an autonomous Cambodian institute since January 1997 (DC-Cam)]. There are many reasons for the dearth of available information on this time period, but it boils down to general chaos in Cambodia after the fall of Pol Pot. There was not much record-keeping in the immediate post-Khmer Rouge period, and the vast majority of historical research on human rights in Cambodia focuses on the brutality of the Khmer Rouge (Advisor 8 May 2003).

Pol Pot's government left Cambodia in shambles— living conditions were extremely poor, and prison conditions were abysmal. Most inmates at that time were political prisoners who had been accused or were suspected of involvement with the former Khmer Rouge rulers or the royalist or republican resistance forces (Advisor 8 May 2003). The Resource Information Center interviewed the author of one of the few books on this time period in Cambodia (CAMBODIA AFTER THE KHMER ROUGE: INSIDE THE POLITICS OF NATION BUILDING), who stated that this was a time of massive waves of arrests and that prisoners were literally warehoused until their eventual arbitrary or perhaps bribed release. The author stated that there was no court system in the country until about 1982. Thus, pre-trial detention was essentially long-term detention, since prisoners did not go to trial in the absence of a court system (Author 13 May 2003).

The advisor to the Documentation Center of Cambodia stated that he had heard anecdotal information to the effect that there was a great deal of torture and mistreatment in Cambodia's prisons at that time. Orders to interrogate and/or torture specific prisoners were issued by a "relatively senior political cadre" of Vietnamese and Khmer (Cambodian) officials while prison employees generally led prisoners from their cells to interrogation chambers and then back to their cells. Interrogations were carried out by political officers (Advisor 8 May 2003).

A 1990 Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (LCHR) report on the situation in Cambodia under Heng Samrin is based on in-depth interviews of 150 persons in Thailand-Cambodia border areas during two fact-finding missions, one in late 1984 and one in early 1985. The report provides a general accounting of torture, mistreatment, and overall living conditions in Cambodian prisons at that time. Most of the specific incidents of torture and ill-treatment cited in the report occurred in T-3 prison, the main prison (at that time) in Phnom Penh. The report's authors state:

"Most of our discussion of prisoners in the PRK is limited to political prisoners, as all of the former prisoners we interviewed indicated that they had been treated as such...because of their suspected opposition to the PRK regime [as supporters of the Khmer Rouge or as supporters of the non-communist guerrilla forces]" (LCHR 1990, 17).

"Persons who are taken into custody by PRK authorities for political offenses suffer from the virtually complete absence of a functioning legal process. They typically are arrested without charges being made, and are subjected to torture in the interrogation sessions that follow. Beatings are commonplace, and more sophisticated forms of torture usual..." (LCHR 1990, 17).

Pages 23-28 [attached] of the report discuss torture methods and procedures in detail (LCHR 1990, 23-28). The report found "little indication that the central administration [had at that time] made any serious effort to prevent or punish torture, despite evidence that it [was] aware that torture [was being] practiced widely on behalf of the state," nor did the Cambodian constitution under the PRK provide protections against torture for Cambodian citizens (LCHR 1990, 32).

According to a 1987 Amnesty International report:

"Three blocks west of T3, the Phnum [sic] Penh municipal police headquarters contains a prison known as 'PJ' and administered by the Capital Police Prison Section....The political prisoners held in PJ prison reportedly include detainees brought there by Phnum Penh police immediately after arrest, as well as people transferred from other police units. Estimates place the number of political prisoners held in PJ prison during 1985 at more than 200" (AI Jun 1987, 52-53). For information on conditions in PJ Prison in the 1980s, please see the attached relevant pages of the Amnesty 1987 report (52-53).

The 1990 LCHR report states that "as is the case in other crucial areas of the PRK administration, [the uniformed police, the plainclothes police, and] ranking administrative postings in the Ministry of Interior...appear to be shared between Kampucheans who spent most of their earlier adult lives in Viet Nam, and former cadres of Democratic Kampuchea's [Pol Pot's] East Zone who opted to take refuge in Viet Nam from the DK regime's ferocious 1978 purge in that zone....[T]heir duties and those of their subordinates are carried out under the close supervision of a corps of Vietnamese...'experts,' who attempt to ensure their political rectitude and improve their work efficiency" (LCHR 1990, 20-21). Pages 29-32 of the report [attached] provide information on the authorities responsible for interrogating and torturing detainees, indicating that these activities were carried out by Khmer (Cambodian) as well as Vietnamese personnel.

According to a 1992 Lawyers Committee report:

"The Ministry of Interior...plays a dominant role in the Cambodian government. It controls the nation's police, its own security force, and civilian detention facilities and prisons. Together with the armed forces, its reach extends to all areas of the criminal justice system. As a result, it has undermined the efforts of government officials who have sought to promote respect for fundamental rights. Significant reform of the Cambodian legal system will not be achieved unless adequate checks on the powers of the Interior Ministry are put into place" (LCHR 1992, 6).

The authors of the 1990 LCHR report write that they questioned former prison guards and policemen as to whether they had attempted to register complaints concerning particularly brutal interrogations they had witnessed. "One former police officer from Phnom Penh who had described an especially abusive interrogator...replied: 'Nobody dares to protest against this guy because he's such a barbarian that for no reason at all he would throw any one of his own personnel in jail' " (LCHR 1990, 36). The policeman further stated that abusive interrogators were not disciplined but instead were praised and promoted (LCHR 1990, 36).

This response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the RIC within time constraints. This response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Advisor, Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam). Telephone interview (Bethesda, MD: 8 May 2003).

Amnesty International (AI). KINGDOM OF CAMBODIA: LAW AND ORDER - WITHOUT THE LAW (London: ASA 23/01/00, Mar 2000), p. 1.

Amnesty International (AI). KAMPUCHEA: POLITICAL IMPRISONMENT AND TORTURE (London: ASA 23/05/87, Jun 1987), p. 26, 52-53.

Author. Telephone interview (Washington, DC: 13 May 2003).

Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam). [Accessed 13 May 2003]

Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (LCHR). CAMBODIA: THE JUSTICE SYSTEM AND VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS (New York: May 1992), p. 6, 17.

Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (LCHR). KAMPUCHEA: AFTER THE WORST (New York: 1990), p. 7-56.

Legal Advisor, Human Rights Watch. Telephone interview (New York: 13 May 2003).


Amnesty International (AI). KAMPUCHEA: POLITICAL IMPRISONMENT AND TORTURE (London: ASA 23/05/87, Jun 1987), p. 24-27, 52-54.

Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (LCHR). CAMBODIA: THE JUSTICE SYSTEM AND VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS (New York: May 1992), p. 5-17.

Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (LCHR). KAMPUCHEA: AFTER THE WORST (New York: 1990), p. v-56.


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