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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Group impugns proposed drug-control law

Group impugns proposed drug-control law

DRUG LAW debate
Critics say elements of the draft Law on Drug Control, crafted with the cooperation and support of the UNODC, are contradictory and potentially dangerous for drug users.
The right to drug treatment

  • Article 67(5)

“Officers who implement drug treatment and rehabilitation measures in accordance with the right to drug treatment shall not be prosecuted for their activities.”

Compulsory drug treatment

  • Article 71(4)

“If a person is drug dependent to any substance as specified ... a guardian, relative or authority can refer, or arrest and refer, the person to drug treatment at a hospital, public drug treatment facility, or any drug treatment facility.”

SOURCE: DRAFT LAW ON DRUG CONTROL, FEBRUARY 2009

Critics say current document would only increase violence and abuse in Cambodia’s criticised drug rehabilitation centres

PROPOSED legislation aimed at strengthening the Kingdom’s drug control law could also allow staffers in rehabilitation centres to commit human rights abuses with “total impunity” and give authorities sweeping powers of detention, critics warned Thursday.

Shortly after a scathing Human Rights Watch report released this week that detainees held in 11 government-run treatment centres face “sadistic violence”, critics are warning that the draft Law on Drug Control, written with support from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), would allow any abuses to continue.

Rights watchdogs have zeroed in on two articles they describe as potentially “dangerous”, including one that guarantees public access to drug treatment.

“Officers who implement drug treatment and rehabilitation measures in accordance with the right to drug treatment shall not be prosecuted for their activities,” states Article 67(5) of a February 2009 draft of the law, which was obtained by the Post.

The wording is particularly troublesome, given ongoing allegations of abuse, said Joe Amon, HRW’s director for health and human rights.

“This provision will allow drug detention staff to commit the kinds of abuses we document – beatings, rape, torture – with total impunity,” Amon said.

A separate article outlines the circumstances in which a person can be forced into treatment: “If a person is drug-dependent ... a guardian, relative or authority can ... arrest and refer the person to drug treatment.”

David Harding, international coordinator for drugs programmes at Friends International, called it “the most dangerous article in the entire law”.
“Anybody could say that somebody is a drug addict and have them interned indefinitely.”

Almost half of those detained in rehabilitation centres were arrested at the request of a relative, the HRW report said.

In response to criticism, authorities said it was necessary to outline compulsory treatment in the drug control law, which was first adopted in 1996.
“Our idea here is to help serious drug addicts get out of drugs. It is not wrong,” said Moek Dara, secretary general for the NACD.

“People who are dependent on drugs are different from normal people. If we do not push them, they do not find drug treatment themselves,” he said.

Moek Dara rejected criticism that the law would give treatment centre staff impunity.

“They will still face prosecution if they commit crimes under criminal law, like beating and using violence,” he said.

UNODC role
HRW’s Amon blamed the UNODC, which assisted in drafting the law, for shortcomings in the proposed legislation.

“The UNODC ... needs to do more to ensure that [drug treatment centres] do not operate wholly outside of Cambodian and international law,” Amon said. “The new law that has been drafted is a disgrace.”

But Harding said there were so many issues with the legislation when it was brought for public consultation last February that civil society had little time to make the case on how to plug the holes.

“I think the UN agencies have worked really hard on this,” Harding said. “There are just so many areas of concern that you can only do so much.”

As it stands now, however, Harding said the proposed law could usher in a surge in the number of people detained in detention centres.

“I think we could see a situation where there are significantly more incarcerations of people,” Harding said.

The draft Law on Drug Control is currently being discussed by the Council of Ministers, Moek Dara said. He said he expected the law would be approved “later this year”, before it makes its way to the National Assembly.

The UNODC’s East Asia representative, Gary Lewis, did not answer requests for comment Thursday.

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