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Care for addicts needed: minister

Provincial authorities around the country should focus their efforts on expanding voluntary drug rehabilitation in hospitals and community health centres, Minister of Interior Sar Kheng said yesterday.

“The Royal Government has paid strong attention to the victims of drug use, and it has provided their treatment free of charge,” Sar Kheng said in a speech concluding the National Authority for Combating Drugs’ National Congress.

Rights groups like Human Rights Watch have frequently accused the government of detaining addicts and other down-and-outs at rehab centres and subjecting them to abuse and exercise regimens medically unproven to be effective against addiction.  

“People identified as drug users are held without due process in government-run detention centres where they face serious abuse – including physical and sexual violence and forced labour – all in the name of ‘rehabilitation’,” Human Rights Watch said in a press release last week.

Olivier Lermet, country manager for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said results from voluntary community-based rehab centres supported by the UN in Banteay Meanchey, Battambang and Stung Treng provinces “have been encouraging to demonstrate that an alternative to the compulsory centres is possible in Cambodia”.

Ongoing discussions with the Cambodian government were under way to expand such programs, which “contribute to increased drug
abuse awareness in the community, reduce stigma and discrimination,” Lermet said.

Still, in general “the current response to drug addiction in Cambodia is to place drug users in compulsory treatment centres”, according to UNODC.

Just last week, UN special rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez presented a report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that cited abuses in compulsory drug detention centres in four Asian countries including Cambodia.

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