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Drug law prompts alarm

A version of a soon-to-be-finalised draft drug law calls for drug users to be subjected to up to two years of involuntary rehabilitation, prompting expressions of concern from experts who have said this would be both harmful and unnecessary.

Article 108 of the draft law, sections of which were sent to civil society groups for review on September 30 and obtained by The Post over the weekend, states: “The measure of Treatment and Rehabilitation of drug dependence at public facilities that belong to the State cover a period from six months to two years.”

Joe Amon, director of the health and human rights division of Human Rights Watch, said that the law did not now specify minimum or maximum periods for rehabilitation, but that “the current practice is to detain people for three to six months, sometimes a year”.

He said the prospect of longer detention periods was particularly worrying in Cambodia, where Human Rights Watch has long railed against alleged abuses committed at government-run treatment centres.

“According to United Nations standards, compulsory drug treatment should only be ordered ‘in exceptional crisis situations of high risk to self or others’ – but that assumes humane drug-treatment facilities in line with international standards,” he said.

Em Hoy, an official at the National Authority for Combating Drugs who has been involved in drafting the law, said longer periods of involuntary treatment were designed to protect rather than punish people.

“This law protects all people’s interests,” he said, and added that addicts would be given the option of entering treatment centres voluntarily.

“If they do not go to treatment, we will force them to have treatment at a rehabilitation centre for [a period of] six months to two years,” he said.

He would not comment further on the law, saying it was still in draft form and could change. He said he expected the draft to be done by the end of the month and submitted to the Council of Ministers early next month.

Tea Phauly, most at-risk populations adviser at UNAIDS, said two years of involuntary treatment “appears to be quite a long time”, but noted that “treatment for chronic drug addiction tends to be long”.

He said he would submit a statement listing the concerns of civil society groups ahead of an internal meeting of the drafting team tomorrow.

This, he said, would be the last opportunity civil society had to comment on the draft before it was finalised.

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