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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Drug czar urges more power to detain users

National Authority for Combating Drugs President Ke Kim Yan speaks at a meeting yesterday in Phnom Penh.
National Authority for Combating Drugs President Ke Kim Yan speaks at a meeting yesterday in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

Drug czar urges more power to detain users

As the Kingdom pushes ahead with a controversial nationwide drug crackdown, Ke Kim Yan, the president of the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD), called yesterday for expanded powers to detain drug users in “treatment facilities” against their will and without trial.

The remarks were made at the NACD’s yearly conference, where a report from the agency was released yesterday that revealed a 1-tonne shipment of cocaine destined for Sihanoukville had been intercepted in Shanghai in November.

Speaking yesterday, Kim Yan said the power to force addicts into treatment facilities should be “given to the local authority”, a position that was described by observers as a violation of international law.

“This is just to order them to get treatment at any centre. It is not a sentencing. If you are ordered to go get treatment two or three times and still don’t reform, then we will proceed according to law,” he said, noting the country has 177 rehab centres but “so few people [are] going to get treatment”.

“They are not responding how we want. So we want authorities to decide. It can be the district chief, commune chief or district police chief,” he added.

But David Harding, an independent drug expert with years of experience in Cambodia, said Kim Yan’s suggestion would “infringe fundamentally on human rights”.

Harding said addicts are often sent to rehabilitation centres against their will and are not allowed to leave. “This is not treatment and not rehabilitation. There is no government institution that is qualified to provide scientifically based treatment,” he said.

A 2010 Human Rights Watch report found addicts were detained involuntarily in “rehabilitation centres” that lacked doctors and were sites of frequent beatings and sexual violence.

But while Harding said Kim Yan’s suggestion violates both Cambodian and international law by stripping users’ rights to due process, he also said it has been in practice for years. “They’ve been doing these things for a decade,” he said, noting the most recent crackdown has been more widely promoted by the government.

Meanwhile, the NACD yesterday also released a 2016 report that revealed a previously undisclosed November bust involving more than a tonne of cocaine destined for Cambodia. The cocaine was hidden with a shipment of fish headed for Sihanoukville, but Chinese authorities confiscated the drugs in Shanghai before sending the ship onward to Cambodia.

“We received a written report from China about the case. The Chinese authorities confiscated the drugs and sent the containers filled with fish to Cambodia so that we could arrest the receiver,” said In Song, of the Anti-Drug Department’s A9 office.

Song added that the Vietnamese suspect is currently in custody in Phnom Penh.

A spokesman from the Chinese Embassy could not confirm the report, but reiterated China’s “clear cut position against drugs” and cooperation with Cambodia.

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