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Vietnam Using Drug Takers as Slave Labor [FEATURE]

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #699)
Politics & Advocacy

Vietnamese drug users detained by the police are held for years without due process, subjected to torture and physical violence, and forced to work as low- or no-wage labor in camps that are supposed to be drug treatment centers, according to an explosive new report released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch, which called for the camps to be closed and the prisoners released.

The report, The Rehab Archipelago: Forced Labor and Other Abuses in Drug Detention Centers in Southern Vietnam, documents the experience of people confined in 14 detention centers controlled by the government of Ho Chi Minh City. It found that the camps, which are mandated to treat and rehabilitate drug users are instead little more than forced labor camps where prisoners work six days a week processing cashew nuts, sewing clothes, and manufacturing other items.

Those who refuse to work or who violate camp rules are subject to punishments that Human Rights Watch said in some cases amounts to torture. It cited the experience of Quynh Luu, a former detainee who was caught trying to escape.

"First they beat my legs so that I couldn't run off again," Quynh said. "Then they shocked me with an electric baton and kept me in the punishment room for a month."

Quynh's case is hardly an exception, said the human rights monitoring organization, which talked to numerous current and former prisoners.

"People did refuse to work but they were sent to the disciplinary room. There they worked longer hours with more strenuous work, and if they balked at that work then they were beaten. No one refused to work completely," said Ly Nhan, who was detained in Nhi Xuan center in Ho Chi Minh City for four years.

"Work was compulsory," said Luc Ngan, who was a minor when he began more than three years in detention at Youth Center No. 2 in Ho Chi Minh City. "We produced bamboo furniture, bamboo products, and plastic drinking straws. We were paid by the hour for work -- eight-hour days, six days a week."

While workers were paid, they never saw the money, said Quynh, who spent five years at Center No. 3 in Binh Duong province. "On paper I earned 120,000 Vietnamese dollars a month, but they took it. The center staff said it paid for our food and clothes."

"If we opposed the staff they beat us with a one-meter, six-sided wooden truncheon. Detainees had the bones in their arms and legs broken. This was normal life inside," said Dong Ban, who was imprisoned for more than four years in Center No. 5 in Dak Nong province.

"Tens of thousands of men, women and children are being held against their will in government-run forced labor centers in Vietnam," said Joe Amon, health and human rights director at Human Rights Watch. "This is not drug treatment, the centers should be closed, and these people should be released."

The Vietnamese embassy in Washington did not return a call for comment Wednesday.

The system of forced labor camps for drug users originated with "reeducation through labor" camps for drug users and prostitutes established after the North Vietnamese victory over the South in 1975. They received a renewed impetus in the mid-1990s as the government launched a campaign to eradicate "social evils," including drug use. Their numbers have grown as the Vietnamese economy has expanded, more than doubling from 56 in 2000 to 123 at the beginning of this year.

Perversely, international donations to support drug treatment centers and to the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs have enabled the regime to continue to hold HIV-positive drug users against their will, even though Vietnamese law says they have the right to be released if they are not receiving appropriate medical care. Since 1994, international donors have sought to "build capacity," including training staff in drug treatment and support for HIV interventions, but Human Rights Watch reported that most centers offer no antiretroviral treatment or even basic medical care. The group cites various reports putting the number of HIV-positive detainees at between 15% and 60% of the detainee population.

The report contains testimonies from numerous detainees and former detainees who said they were sent to the centers without a formal hearing and without ever seeing a lawyer or judge. Some were sent to the camps after being arrested by police, while others were turned in by family members who "volunteered" them, believing they would get effective drug treatment there.

"I was caught by police in a roundup of drug users," said Quy Hop, who spent four years in the Binh Duc camp in Binh Phuoc province. "They took me to the police station in the morning and by that evening I was in the drug center. I saw no lawyer, no judge."

A small number of detainees voluntarily placed themselves in the centers to get drug treatment, but even they were not free to leave. Some reported that their detention was capriciously extended by camp managers or by changes in government policy.

Human Rights Watch was unable to provide the names of any foreign companies benefiting from detainee labor, saying "the lack of transparency or any publicly accessible list of companies that have contracts with these government-run detention centers made corroborating the involvement of companies difficult." But it did cite Vietnamese media reports as saying two Vietnamese companies, Son Long JSC, a cashew processing firm, and Tran Boi Production, which manufactures plastic goods, both used detainee labor. Neither company has replied to inquiries from Human Rights Watch, the group said.

"Forced labor is not treatment, and profit-making is not rehabilitation," Amon said. "Donors should recognize that building the capacity of these centers perpetuates injustice, and companies should make sure their contractors and suppliers are not using goods from these centers."

Besides calling on the government of Vietnam to shut down the camps, Human Rights Watch is seeking "an immediate, thorough, and independent investigation into torture, ill treatment, arbitrary detention, and other abuses in the country's drug detention centers." In addition, it wants the government to make public a list of all companies with contracts for detainee labor.

Human Rights Watch also calls on international donors to review their aid to the detention centers to ensure that it is not supporting programs that violate international human rights standards and urges companies working with the detention centers to end all relationships immediately.

"People who are dependent on drugs in Vietnam need access to community-based, voluntary treatment," Amon said. "Instead, the government is locking them up, private companies are exploiting their labor, and international donors are turning a blind eye to the torture and abuses they face."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Charles Patric… (not verified)

This comes as no surprise at all to me.A whole lot of country's do this exact same thing with those who have been nailed for drug use.A lot of country's in the world are definitely downright brutal to those that get caught uing drugs.The use of them as slave labor is not anything new at all.Hell,lok at China and what they do to anyone who ends up in prison for anything at all.Thats one of their biggest suppliers of laborers or workers.It's cheap meaning they don't get paid anything at all.Feeding is just about non existnace over there.They have a quota thy have to meet each day otherwise they are punished in diferent ways and to think that we do buisness with thm but ehn we do buisnes with many other country's that ue prisoners as slave labor to make amny of the things that we buy from them

Thu, 09/08/2011 - 6:16pm Permalink
sicntired (not verified)

In reply to by Charles Patric… (not verified)

This guy not only has his addicts and other small time criminals doing slave labor on his chain gangs.He makes his so called prisons(tent city)so awful that it is considered a privilege to be on one.When I was in prison in Canada(British Columbia)I worked doing post office repair work(sewing mailbags{federal})and clearing burn areas so that tree planters could come in and plant.Using convicts as slave labor is as old as jail itself.Prisoners in the south work to feed the other prisoners and if there is anything left as surplus I'm sure there are deals made.Prison is always a source of income to the local community and graft is common.I used to watch the BC pen guards split up our monthly cheese ration and when the steaks arrived it was a gong show.Vietnam learned from the best.They watched things like Air America for years.

Sun, 09/18/2011 - 3:26am Permalink
Rose 99 (not verified)

Vietnam is not the only place to use people with addiction problems as salve labor. Oklahoma has several residential "rehab" centers that are owned by chicken ranch owners. Drug court participants can be given a choice of the chicken ranch or prison. In accepting the only real choice they work up to 7 days a week up to 18 hours a day. IF they last six months, they are paid $500. Usually they are dismissed early from the program therefore they are paid nothing. It's dirty business here and in Vietnam.

Thu, 09/08/2011 - 10:50pm Permalink
Giordano (not verified)

Prohibition facilitated the AIDS pandemic.  It mandates employment instability.  It corrodes and destroys family relationships.  And it has created an alleged sub-class of citizens who can be legally stripped of all humanity to provide the world with highly prized slave labor once again. 

The costs of prohibition are a social and economic black hole.  The hole will take any drug war victim, no matter who they might be, and suck them into an alternate oblivion, if not death, as executions for drugs in many countries illustrate.

The world has reached a level where avenues to correct the evils of prohibition are solidly blocked.  The reasons include all the usual corruptions and bigotry.  Total impasse is precisely the political situation that brings about revolutions.  Every indication is that a drug war revolution is fomenting.  Prohibitionists would be well advised to get out while they still can.  I’ve heard Homeland Security is hiring.


Sun, 09/11/2011 - 3:30pm Permalink
Carlos (not verified)

Most residential run by the Salvation Army, and other religious  organization claim to be providing "treatment" for patients when they are just making them labor for their room and board when they work in their stores or ticketing prices or any other job at their facilities, when in fact not one iota of research exist to indicate that it is effective treatment for abstinences from drugs. Of course this people get to leave if they want to but they are not referred to other facilities that would meet their needs better.  In fact most residential facilities I have known do not refer patients to other faculties.  Many times these patients are discharged in bad faith, as a form of retaliation against the patient, but the patient is in fact left out without effective research based treatment, nor the opportunity to obtain such.  This organizations believe that their programs are effective because a small number of those who go thru their program does do get their life straight, but those number are way to small to even be considered an outcome

Sun, 09/11/2011 - 5:10pm Permalink
malcolmkyle (not verified)


Due to the tyrannic and mindless actions of prohibitionists, tens of millions of people world-wide (both users and non-users) have either been killed, maimed, incarcerated or had their lives seriously disrupted. Prohibitionists are solely responsible for an immense increase in violent organized crime and a grave abuse of human rights on a scale barely witnessed in human social history.

No amount of money, police powers, weaponry, wishful thinking or pseudo-science will make our streets safer; only an end to prohibition can do that. How much longer are you willing to foolishly risk your own survival by continuing to ignore the obvious, historically confirmed solution? 

If you support prohibition then you've helped trigger the worst crime wave in history.

If you support prohibition you've helped escalate the number of people on welfare who can't find employment due to their felony status. 

If you support prohibition you've a helped create a black market with massive incentives to hook both adults and children alike.

If you support prohibition you've helped to make these dangerous substances available in schools and prisons.

If you support prohibition you've helped raise gang warfare to a level not seen since the days of alcohol bootlegging.

If you support prohibition you've helped create the prison-for-profit synergy with drug lords. 

If you support prohibition you've helped remove many important civil liberties from those citizens you falsely claim to represent.

If you support prohibition you've helped put previously unknown and contaminated drugs on the streets.

If you support prohibition you've helped to escalate Theft, Muggings and Burglaries.

If you support prohibition you've helped to divert scarce law-enforcement resources away from protecting your fellow citizens from the ever escalating violence against their person or property.

If you support prohibition you've helped overcrowd the courts and prisons, thus making it increasingly impossible to curtail the people who are hurting and terrorizing others.

If you support prohibition you've helped evolve local gangs into transnational enterprises with intricate power structures that reach into every corner of society, controlling vast swaths of territory with significant social and military resources at their disposal.

If you support prohibition then prepare yourself for even more death, corruption, sickness, imprisonment, unemployment, foreclosed homes, and the complete loss of the rule of law and the Bill of Rights.

Mon, 09/12/2011 - 6:41am Permalink

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