Human Rights Watch (HRW) have recently demanded the closure of all of Cambodia’s Drug Detention Centres after an investigation, and consequent report, revealed the truly shocking and dehumanizing treatment of those interned.

The 55-Page report, entitled  “’They Treat Us Like Animals’: Mistreatment of Drug Users and ‘Undesirables’ in Cambodia’s Drug Detention Centers”, documents the process by which people are interned in these detention centres, before going on to expose the extent of abuse that is occurring inside their walls.

Interviews and first-hand observations tell of “treatments” that involve beatings with rubber water hoses, sticks and branches; being forced to perform exercises that intentionally cause intense physical pain and humiliation, such as crawling along stony ground and standing in septic water tanks; being forced to work unpaid, in reality enslaved, in the centres themselves and on construction sites; rape and sexual abuse of female inmates; as well as regular beatings for refusing to cooperate.

These centres are not used solely for the purpose of detaining drug users but have become a “catch-all”, a dumping ground, for an array of Cambodia society’s “undesirables”.  The report discloses that amongst those interned are homeless, beggars, sex workers, and the disabled.  The numbers of such undesirables sent to these detention centres noticeably increase in advance of the high-profile visits by foreign dignitaries.

More worryingly, children are also being unjustly detained alongside adults.  Whilst in these centres these children lack adequate and appropriate supervision or segregation.  HRW’s report attests to the fact that children as young as 6 are being detained alongside adults, being forced to undertake gruelling physical exercises and military drills whilst also being chained up and subjected to beatings.  Indeed, the government itself admits that at least 10 percent of those held in these centres are under 18 years of age.

The purpose of drug detention centres is not to punish but to provide the support, guidance and environment in which both addiction, and its requisite causes, can be assessed, worked through and overcome.  Not only does mere punishment and abuse potentially further deepen the psycho-social issues that lead to addiction but it is a blatant violation of the rights of these people.

Addiction, crime and disability can never diminish anyone’s basic human rights.

Run by the military, police, gendarmerie, municipal authorities and Social Affairs Ministry of Cambodia, HRW has demanded that all the country’s centres be immediately closed down and those detained be released.  It’s report also recommends a full and impartial investigation of the abuses and “treatments” that have been administered.

“The only ‘treatment’ people in Cambodia’s drug detention centers receive is being beaten, bruised, and forced to work,” said Joseph Amon, health and human rights director at Human Rights Watch.

It is time for a drastic change.

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