Human Rights Watch Slams Cambodian Drug Detention Centers

By McCarton Ackerman 12/10/13

Children as young as six years old are imprisoned in Cambodia's brutal drug detention centers, where prisoners are subjected to forced labor and harsh abuse.

cambodia detention.jpg
They also imprison the diabled and homeless.
Photo via Shutterstock

A new Human Rights Watch report accuses Cambodian drug detention centers of unlawfully detaining hundreds of people while subjecting them to forced labor, sexual violence and beatings. The organization conducted 33 interviews with people held at the eight drug detention centers throughout the country. Some of the interviewees reported being treated “like animals,” punished with exercises designed to cause mental and physical pain, and being beaten when they refused to work for free at the center or on construction sites.

“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. “The government uses these centers as dumping grounds for beggars, sex workers, street children, and other ‘undesirables,’ often in advance of high-profile visits by foreign dignitaries.”

Some of those interviewed said children as young as six-years-old were held in the drug detention centers, as well as subjected to the same forced labor and beatings. “Undesirable” people who are not addicted to drugs, including people with disabilities, beggars, and sex workers, have also been confined to the facilities--for months in some cases.

Human Rights Watch issued a similar report in 2010 about the compulsory drug dependency “treatment” centers across the country, leading to public condemnation from the U.N. about the abusive treatment that detained people received. They are now urging Cambodia to close all of its drug detention centers due to human rights violations and allow everyone in them to be released; a similar call to action was made in a March 2012 joint statement by 12 United Nations agencies, who urged all countries with drug detention centers to close them immediately. Cambodian authorities have not publicly responded to either call.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.