After accusing the government of allowing the forcible detention and abuse of people in drug rehabilitation centers, Human Rights Watch called Saturday for the UN to pressure the government into ending the programs and holding abusers to account.
Human Rights Watch also accused the government of drafting a drug treatment law that could give immunity to those who abuse addicts detained for rehabilitation, a charge the government denied.
UN agencies yesterday also defended their role in Cambodia’s drug treatment programs and insisted that Cambodia was making real progress toward reform.
Released Jan 25, the report recounted interviews with former detainees who recounted repeated abuse at the hands of police officers and center staff, from bloody beatings to rape and electric shocks.
In a statement issued Saturday, Human rights Watch praises some UN agencies for speaking out about the centers but singles out two, Unicef and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, for being “less vocal.”
“Now Unicef and [UNODC] need to make clear to the Cambodian government that the centers should be shut down,” Joe Amon, Human Rights Watch’s health and human rights director, said in the statement.
The government has not publicly committed on closing the centers but, according to the National Authority for Combating Drugs, plans do exist to increase community-based treatment.
Human Rights Watch reproached the UNODC for providing the government with “technical support” in its drafting of a drug control law it fears will strip detainees abused at the centers of any meaningful legal protection.
“The draft law on drug control would protect abusers and violate Cambodia’s human rights obligations,” the statement said. “The UN agency responsible for drug control should forcefully oppose any laws that do not meet international standards.”
The UN agency yesterday rejected the accusations.
“The drug law is now aligned to international standards,” said Anand Chaudhuri, UNODC project director in Cambodia.
The draft does not protect those who commit abuse but provides assurances of harm prevention and health care, he said, adding that Human Rights Watch had for oversimplified a “nuanced” process.
“Unfortunately, Human Rights Watch does not understand due process,” he said. As a product of a sovereign state, he explained, the law will take its final form “not because the UNODC did something or did not do something.”
Mr Chaudhuri also praised the National Authority for Combating Drugs Chairman Ke Kim Yan’s talk of shutting the drug centers down by 2015 and replacing them with the kind of community-based treatment programs the UNODC has been running in a handful of communities for the past year. He expected the draft law to make that commitment official.
After UNODC claimed last week that the NACD had promised to close the centers in five years, NACD director for legislation and rehabilitation Neak Yuthea said the authority had only agreed to reduce the number of centers in favor of community-oriented drug treatment.
NACD Deputy Secretary-General Moek Dara, meanwhile, suspected that Human Rights Watch had reviewed an outdated version of the draft.
“We do not write a law to abuse our people,” he said.
Mr Dara said the Council of Ministers’ lawyers began reviewing the draft a week ago and he expected the ministry to approve it by May.
(Additional reporting by Van Roeun)