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Southeast Asia: Human Rights Watch Charges Torture, Rape, Illegal Detentions at Cambodian Drug "Rehab" Centers, Demands Shutdown

In a scathing 93-page report released today, the international human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Cambodian drug detention centers of torturing and raping detainees, imprisoning children and the mentally ill, and illegally detaining and imprisoning drug users. The centers are beyond reform and should be closed, the group said.

"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 HRW. "These centers do not need to be revamped or modified; they need to be shut down."

The report cited detailed testimonies from detainees who were raped by center staff, beaten with electric cables, shocked with cattle prods, and forced to give blood. It also found that drug users were "cured" of their conditions by being forced to undergo rigorous military-style drills to sweat the drugs out of their systems.

"[After arrest] the police search my body, they take my money, they also keep my drugs... They say, 'If you don't have money, why don't you go for a walk with me?... [The police] drove me to a guest house.... How can you refuse to give him sex? You must do it. There were two officers. [I had sex with] each one time. After that they let me go home," said Minea, a woman in her mid-20's who uses drugs, explaining how she was raped by two police officers.

"[A staff member] would use the cable to beat people... On each whip the person's skin would come off and stick on the cable," said M'noh, age 16, describing whippings he witnessed in the Social Affairs "Youth Rehabilitation Center" in Choam Chao. The title of the HRW report is "Skin on the Cable."

More than 2,300 people were detained in Cambodia's 11 drug detention centers in 2008. That is 40% more than in 2007.

"The government of Cambodia must stop the torture occurring in these centers," said Amon. "Drug dependency can be addressed through expanded voluntary, community-based, outpatient treatment that respects human rights and is consistent with international standards."

Cambodian officials from the National Authority for Combating Drugs, the Interior Ministry, the National Police, and the Social Welfare Ministry all declined to comment when queried by the Associated Press. But Cambodian Brig. Gen. Roth Srieng, commander of the military police in Banteay Meanchy province, denied torture at his center, while adding that some detainees were forced to stand in the sun or "walk like monkeys" as punishment for trying to escape.

Children as young as 10, prostitutes, beggars, the homeless, and the mentally ill are frequently detained and taken to the drug detention centers, the report found. About one-quarter of those detained were minors. Most were not told why they were being detained. The report also said police sometimes demanded sexual favors or money for release and told some detainees they would not be beaten or could leave early if they donated blood.

The report relied on testimony from 74 people, most of them drug users, who had been detained between February and July 2009.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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