Group: Cambodia should shut drug detention centers

The Associated Press
Monday, January 25, 2010; 4:53 AM

HANOI, Vietnam -- An international human rights group called on the Cambodian government Monday to shut down its drug detention centers alleging abuses such as torture and rape, as well as the lockup of children and the mentally ill.
In a 93-page report, New York-based Human Rights Watch detailed examples of detainees being beaten with electric wire, raped by drug center staff, shocked with electric batons and coerced into giving blood. Some Cambodian families paid to send their relatives to the locked-down centers, where detainees undergo military-style drills to sweat out the drugs in their systems to "cure" their addiction, the report said.Cambodia's 11 drug detention centers in 2008, a 40 percent increase from a year earlier.
"The bottom line really is that these centers operate outside any judicial oversight and outside of any monitoring," said Joe Amon, director of Human Rights Watch's health and human rights division in the Thai capital, Bangkok. "We're sending a message that these centers need to be shut down."
Cambodian Brig. Gen. Roth Srieng, commander of the military police in Banteay Meanchy province, denied torture at his center but said some detainees were forced to stand in the sun or "walk like monkeys" as punishment for attempting to escape.
Cambodian officials from the National Authority for Combatting Drugs, Interior Ministry, National Police and Social Welfare Ministry declined to comment.
Amon said the centers that operate in several Asian countries do nothing to help detainees overcome drug addictions and the relapse rate upon release remains high.
About one-fourth of those detained at Cambodia's centers in 2008 were 18 years or younger, with 5 percent classified as "street children," according to government data.
These children - some as young as 10 - along with prostitutes, beggars, the homeless and the mentally ill, are often rounded up and taken to drug centers, the Human Rights Watch report said. Most detainees were not told why they were being held or given access to a lawyer, it said.
The report also said police demanded money or sex for release in some cases, and told some detainees they could leave early or would not be beaten if they donated blood.
The report relied on interviews from February to July 2009 with 74 informants, most of whom were drug addicts who had been through treatment in government centers.
The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture was made aware of the allegations in 2008 and has addressed them in a report to Cambodia's government that will be published soon, said Claudia de la Fuente, an official with the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.
Associated Press writer Sopheng Cheang contributed to this report from Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

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