HRW Wants Drug Detention Centers Shut

The mistreatment of people detained at Cambodia’s forced drug treatment centers continues unabated, and the government should release detainees and shutter the institutions, New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a new report.

The report, entitled They Treat Us Like Animals, which was obtained Friday, found that the government has failed to address serious problems at the country’s drug treatment facilities that were raised in a previous report in 2009.

“The Cambodian government has shown callous disregard for the well-being of the thousands of mostly marginalized people—many of them children—who it sends to the facilities, where individuals are subject to vicious and capricious abuse,” HRW said in the report, which has yet to be officially released.

“There should be no illusions: these centers are not intended to help those dependent on drugs. On the contrary, Human Rights Watch has found the centers are a means to lock away drug users and those suspected of drug use with considerably less effort and costs than would be incurred by prosecuting people in the justice system and incarcerating them in prisons,” the report states.

The centers, which are located in Phnom Penh, Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Siem Reap, Preah Sihanouk and Koh Kong provinces, vary in capacity from 30 to 400 people—often swept up in “street cleaning” initiatives and without establishing if the person has a drug problem.

In 2010, there were 11 such centers operating around the country.

HRW said the number of facilities has fallen to eight, but it noted that the “overall number of people held in them has stayed constant.”

The Ministry of Social Affairs operates only one, and the others are run by the police, military police or army.

Inside the centers, HRW found that 1 in 10 detainees is under the age of 18.

Those rounded up and incarcerated, whether they are children, prostitutes or drug users, are forced to perform military-like drills. If the drills are not performed correctly, detainees can be subject to “brutal punishment.”

The report’s findings were based on interviews with 33 people detained in the centers between mid-2011 and the middle of this year, none of whom had “saw a lawyer or judge, or were brought to court at any time after their apprehension or during their detention in the centers,” the report states.

“Torture in these centers also continues: former detainees told Human Rights Watch that they were beaten, thrashed with rubber water hoses, punished by being forced to crawl along stony ground or stand in septic water pits, sexually abused, and forced to work,” the study says.

Last month, a report by the U.N. Office for Drugs and Crime said there are 13 drug treatment centers around the country, six of which are government-run, but expressed concern that the centers “do not have a sufficient treatment focus.”

Community-based drug treatment programs in Banteay Meanchey, Stung Treng and Battambang provinces have proven successful, however, and there are plans to expand.

HRW said the Ministry of Health should “expand access to voluntary, community-based drug dependency treatment and ensure that such treatment is medically appropriate and comports with international standards.”

“Forcing people into ‘treatment’ in drug detention centers violates many of their human rights, including protection from arbitrary arrest and detention, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” HRW said.

“These fundamental international legal violations mean that all individuals currently detained in Cambodia’s drug detention centers should be immediately and unconditionally released.”

Military Police spokesman Brigadier General Kheng Tito said he had not heard of the new report, but that the Ministry of Interior last week began assessing conditions in drug treatment detention centers across the country.

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