PRIME Minister Hun Sen has approved the Kingdom’s controversial draft drug law, legislation that has come under fire from rights groups who say it will entrench already widespread abuses in the Cambodian drug treatment system.
In a statement released on Friday, the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit said the law, years in the making, “is aimed at cracking down on drug cultivation, production, trafficking and distribution for illegal use, and for the rehabilitation and integration [of drug users] into society”. Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the legislation would likely be passed to the National Assembly for approval within 10 days.
A copy of the most recent version of the law was unavailable yesterday, though a draft circulated late last year provoked alarm from observers who pointed to a number of articles they said would open the door to abuses.
Among the concerning provisions of last year’s draft is one defining a drug addict as any person who “consumes drugs and is under the influence of drugs”.
The draft law allows drug users to be forced into involuntary treatment for up to two years. While the draft claims that treatment and rehabilitation can only take place with the consent of drug users, it adds that treatment can be compelled in “special cases”, for the “benefit of the drug addict” or for the “common interest”.
Khieu Samon, acting head of the anti-drug department at the Interior Ministry, said people who are “seriously” addicted to drugs would be compelled under the law to go to rehabilitation centres, but those who display an “average” level of addiction can seek treatment on a voluntary basis. He dismissed past criticisms of Cambodian drug treatment as “extreme” and said the law represented a much-needed update to current anti-drug legislation.
“Our laws have huge loopholes if we compare to the rest of the region and the world,” he said.
Local UN agencies have offered recommendations on the law, but concerns remain following what some say has been an opaque drafting process.
“They’ve been very quiet about the whole thing,” said Graham Shaw, technical officer on drug use with the World Health Organisation. “We just got no kind of indication at all as to whether any or some of [the UN] inputs were taken or not.”
In a report issued last year, Human Rights Watch documented a litany of abuses – including beatings, rapes and forced donations of blood – to which detainees in Cambodian drug rehabilitation centres were allegedly subjected. Joe Amon, director of the health and human rights division at HRW, said last month that with the new law, Cambodia can either “recognise that this is the wrong approach, or they can blindly continue pursuing policies that don’t work and put them in violation of their human rights obligations”.
Olivier Lermet, country manager for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said in an email yesterday that the UN supports the government to “establish and regularly review the legal and policy framework to facilitate the delivery of voluntary, cost-effective and evidence-based” drug treatment.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE