AUTHORITIES are defending their treatment of drug users in government-run rehabilitation centres, insisting a prominent rights watchdog’s claims that addicts face forced detention and abuse at the controversial facilities are untrue.
In a press conference Thursday, authorities said the allegations contained in a Human Rights Watch report released last week were made “without any valid grounds”.
“The centres are not detention or torture centres,” said Meas Virith, deputy secretary general of the country’s anti-drugs bureau, the National Authority for Combating Drugs. “They are open to the public and are not secret centres.”
Officials from the NACD and other government bodies that run the 11 public rehabilitation centres said that reports of violence, torture and coerced treatment were false.
“There are no beatings at my centre, or anyone bleeding like the Human Rights Watch report accuses us,” said Ean Sokhim, director of Orgkas Khnom, or My Chance, a Phnom Penh municipality-run facility that figures prominently in the report.
“I think just sending drug users to rehabilitation centres is not a rights violation, because if you leave them on the street, they may harm people,” Ean Sokhim said.
The HRW report drew predominantly from interviews with 53 drug users who had been detained in at least one of the centres within the past three years.
Abuse ‘widespread’: HRW
Former detainees interviewed by the Post have reported violations similar to those alleged in the HRW report.
One former detainee said he had been held at various rehabilitation centres, including Orgkas Khnom, last year.
“In every last one, you get beat up,” said the former detainee, who asked that his name not be used.
The former detainee also said he witnessed violent punishments for apparent transgressions, including attempting to escape and failing to participate in physical labour or military-style drills on demand.
In an e-mail Thursday, Joe Amon, HRW’s director of health and human rights, said the report’s yearlong research was sound.
“The types of abuses described in [the report] were widespread and integral to how these centres operate,” Amon said.
He said authorities should take the allegations seriously and investigate claims of torture and ill-treatment.
“No other independent assessment has been conducted of conditions in these centres, and we absolutely stand by the accuracy of our findings,” Amon said.
“Simply dismissing the report as groundless may be convenient for the Cambodian government, but it does not relieve them of their obligation to respect international and national law.”