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All but one vote for drug control

All but one vote for drug control

Military police display bags of ice and yama confiscated during a drug bust in Phnom Penh earlier this month.

A drug control law was adopted by the National Assembly on Friday with little debate among lawmakers, despite concerns about provisions allowing for forced treatment of drug users and a continued parliamentary boycott by the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.

All but one member of the National Assembly voted for the legislation, which passed with a 79-1 majority comprised mainly of parliamentarians from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and following less than two hours of debate.

No changes were made to the legislation during the debate.

Ke Kim Yan, chairman of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, said drug offences had not yet decreased because criminal networks used Cambodia as a place to manufacture and distribute drugs.

“The law will prevent, combat, crack down on, and increase punishment for, drug criminals,” he said, adding that about 1,000 people were temporarily housed in drug treatment centres nationwide and about 600  at a “community-based treatment centre” in Banteay Meanchey province.

Rights groups have voiced concerns about previous versions of the legislation, arguing that it could invite the abuse of drug users who are classified as addicts and subsequently forced into treatment.

Last year, Human Rights Watch released a report describing a litany of abuses in drug treatment centres in the Kingdom, including accounts of people being beaten, whipped and shocked.

The approved drug law states that people can be forced into treatment or rehabilitation if they are “seriously addicted” and pose a threat to themselves or to others.

Joseph Amon, director of HRW’s health and human rights division, said yesterday the drug law was a “terrible approach” to public health and human rights.

“Cambodia needs to put in place voluntary, community-based programs,” he said, adding the government had “done nothing” to end abuses in “so-called” drug treatment centres.

Olivier Lermet, country manager for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes, said via email he had not seen the latest version of the legislation, but the UN had been providing input with the aim of encouraging voluntary access to “evidence-based forms” of drug treatment.

“We stand ready to assist the country to reach an application that will combine public health and public security priorities,” he said, adding that the latest draft of the legislation seen by UNODC recognised the need for HIV prevention related to drug use, protections for social workers providing those services, and medical staff to assess people’s level of drug use.

Friday was the second day of the SRP’s boycott of the National Assembly.