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Asian Drug Detention Centers Accused of Torture

The UN urges Western donors to stop funding abusive and ineffective "drug treatment" centers.


Addicts may be beaten if they try to escape.
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By McCarton Ackerman


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A new UN report accuses drug detention centers throughout Asia of engaging in practices of torture and abuse. The report claims that people identified as drug users are often held without due process in government-run detention centers throughout Vietnam, Cambodia, China and Lao PDR, where they may be subject to physical and sexual abuse and denied effective treatment. Juan Mendez, the UN's expert on torture, calls on governments to close the drug detention centers "without delay" and urges donor countries to cease funding for these facilities. “Illegal detention, forced labor, and sexual violence are not drug dependency treatment,” says Rebecca Schleifer, health and human rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The UN’s expert on torture has made it clear that governments should close down these centers and donors should stop subsidizing these abuses.” Last March, the UN issued a similar request, but countries worldwide have continued to provide funding for these facilities. Despite some US donors calling these practices "morally reprehensible," the US government pledged $400,000 last June to support the Lao National Commission for Drug Control and Supervision to “upgrade” facilities at Somsanga Treatment and Rehabilitation Center. Australia and EU countries including Luxembourg and Sweden have also recently provided funding to detention centers in Vietnam, where drug users can be put into forced labor and tortured in "punishment rooms." “The idea that these abusive drug detention facilities offer education or rehabilitation is absurd, since people are forced to work in the service of private companies, starved if they miss their work quotas, and tortured for disobeying the rules or attempting to escape,” says Rick Lines, Harm Reduction International executive director. “Donors would not tolerate this at home.”

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