BANGKOK—People detained in Cambodia’s drug treatment centers are subject to violence, sexual abuse, and forced labor, but international aid workers are reluctant to speak out, Human Rights Watch charged in a new report released Monday.
Detention centers mandated to “rehabilitate” drug users subject them instead to electric shocks, beatings with electrical wire, forced labor, and harsh military drills, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a 93-page report titled “Skin on the Cable.”
“Individuals in these centers are not being treated or rehabilitated, they are being illegally detained and often tortured,” said Joseph Amon, director of the Health and Human Rights division at Human Rights Watch.
“These centers do not need to be revamped or modified. They need to be shut down.”
Amon said international aid groups prefer to wait for the Cambodian government to move toward closing the detention centers down, although it is unclear if there are any concrete plans to do so.
“The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that the centers are ineffective and that they do not support them. The United Nations Joint Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has said they are not legal and need to be shut down,” Amon said.
“Surprisingly, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the two agencies most involved in the centers, have been the most silent about the abuses occurring inside them and the need to shut them down.”
Human Rights Watch also alleged that detainees were forced to have sex with staff and to donate blood, were fed rotten or insect-ridden food, and chained while standing in the sun as punishment.
The drug treatment centers, run by various branches of the Cambodian government including police and the Social Affairs Ministry, detained nearly 2,400 people in 2008, according to the report.
According to the report, people are frequently arbitrarily arrested without a warrant or without reasonable cause, often on the request of a relative or as part of periodic police round-ups of people considered “undesirable.”
They are often lied to or left uninformed about the reasons for their arrest, and they have no access to lawyers, the report said.
U.N. staff Cambodia have declined to comment about the detention centers, Amon said, although they acknowledge the issue privately and sometimes publicly.
Agence France-Presse quoted Moek Dara, secretary general of Cambodia’s national authority for combating drugs, as saying, “There is no reason authorities would commit torture ... we only help those people recover from drugs.”
Tony Lisle, country coordinator for UNAIDS Cambodia, said the UN met with Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Ke Kim Yan on Jan. 21 for “comprehensive discussions” on the drug detention centers.
One U.N. official in Cambodia has indicated that the government plans to close all but one such treatment center by 2015 and wants international help to develop community-based drug treatment programs.
Original reporting by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.