Cambodian Drug Detention Centers

My article this week focused on arbitrary arrest and torture.  In Cambodia, many people are at risk of arbitrary arrest and detention.  People are illegally arrested off the streets and taken to torturous prison-like centers that are supposed to serve as rehabilitation facilities.  In these drug detention centers, drug users are subject to cruel and unusual punishment.  This violates their fundamental human rights as specified by articles five, seven, and nine of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Human Rights Watch, an organization committed to protecting human rights around the world, recently published a ninety-three-page report discussing the severity of this situation.  These facilities are supposed to serve as rehabilitation centers, but the methods they use are counterproductive, degrading, and immoral.

Rather than serving the people of Cambodia, these centers serve the elite by removing the “undesirables” off the street.  This group includes drug users, sex workers, and child beggars.  Instead of addressing the underlying problems with Cambodia’s social structure, the government has chosen to put the problem behind closed doors.  These specific facilities focus on drug users, but Cambodia’s treatment of child beggars and sex workers is equally inhumane.  At these centers, men and women are kept prisoner.  Approximately one to two percent of these individuals choose this form of “treatment.”  The others are arrested as part of police round-ups or “on the request of a relative.”  Many are not informed, or misinformed, about their arrest and not given access to a lawyer.  Article seven of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.”  This right is clearly being violated because specific groups are being targeted by law enforcement.

Article five of the UDHR says, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”  In these centers, this right is completely ignored.  The “cures” of drug dependence include sweating, laboring, and military drills.  Other examples of more severe punishment include rape, being forced to donate blood, and being beaten with electrical wire.

Another problem in these centers is the food.  They are often served rotten and/or insect-ridden food.  Many of the detainees report feeling hungry.  Because their health is being ignored, many detainees suffer from medical illness.

Lastly, these centers do not differentiate between the mentally ill, children, and adults.  All individuals are grouped together and subject to the same forms of punishment.  For those that suffer from mental illness, there are no special resources available to them.  In fact, many mentally ill people are brought into these facilities to take them off the streets.

After having interviewed many detainees and researched the conditions inside these centers, Human Rights Watch is pressuring the Cambodian government to close down these centers.  Joseph Amon, director of the Health and Human Rights Division, says, “Individuals in these centers are not being treated or rehabilitated, they are being illegally detained and often tortured.  These centers do not need to be revamped or modified; they need to be shut down.”

Overall, I feel that these centers are simply a way to avoid dealing with reality.  Cambodia will not solve these social problems until they address the scope of the situation.  These centers are a complete violation of multiple fundamental human rights and need to be closed down immediately. If Cambodia took the money that is currently being spent on these centers and used it to bring about positive social change in other areas of the country, it would be much more beneficial.  Many of the detainees in these facilities say that they are dependent on drugs because of other personal/social problems, including homelessness, lack of education, and “growing up in refugee camps in Thailand.”

1)    In response to the allegations by Human Rights Watch, Khieu Sopheak says, “They are ‘seeing only one tree – they do not see the jungle.’”  To read more about the Cambodian government’s response, read this article.

2)    This is the report put out by Human Rights Watch, which discusses this issue in great depth.  Note the pictures on pages 26 and 64.


This map shows where the detention centers in Cambodia are located. Overall, there are eleven facilities in the country.

Women and children inside a Cambodian detention center.

Children and adults are kept in the same detention centers and subject to the same forms of punishment and harassment.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jbrowdy
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 13:44:57

    I didn’t know about this, Michelle–pretty horrifying situation. I wonder if UNICEF is trying to do anything for the children involved?

    See if you can embed your links by highlighted a word (say, HRW Report) and then using the link button to create a hot link.

    Also, in your first paragraph, I wasn’t sure what you were going to be talking about, you should explain the “drug rehabilitation centers” right away–

    Good first post!


  2. carolineeaston
    Feb 02, 2010 @ 17:41:00

    The pictures of those children are chilling. Its so unfortunate that Cambodia has turned to this to solve their drug problems with unlawful arrest and no consent for this “treatment”. I believe that will soon find out that this tactic will back fire.
    Very interesting post!,


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