July 20 (Reuters) – Cambodian police and social workers have beat, extorted and raped sex workers after taking them into their custody, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday, adding foreign governments could do more to stop such abuse.
“From beginning to end, those people who should really be protecting sex workers from violence and other abuses are in fact the ones who are harming them,” Elaine Pearson, acting director of Asia Human Rights Watch, told a news conference.
Quoting victims, the rights group said in a report that police often abused sex workers arrested during regular sweeps of the streets and parks in the capital, Phnom Penh, following the enactment of an anti-human-trafficking law in 2008.
It called on the government to close down certain detention centres where drug users, beggars, street children, homeless people and sex workers had all been illegally detained.
And it urged foreign donors to review funding to the police and Social Affairs Ministry.
“Donors should not spend their money on abusive officials but instead take steps that will promote accountability from the Cambodian government,” Pearson said.
Cambodian police spokesman Kirth Chantharith told Reuters he had not read the report and could not comment.
Lim El Djurado, a Social Affairs Ministry spokesman, said the allegations against his ministry were false, adding government centres did not house sex workers and officials did not abuse them.
“There are no sex workers at our centres. The centres are for the homeless,” Lim El Djurado said, adding that prostitutes had in fact been sent to non-governmental organisations for vocational training after police round-ups. (Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Alan Raybould)