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Civil society, government meet over anti-drug campaign

National Aids Authority Vice Chair Tia Phalla (centre) and Deputy Secretary-General of the National Authority for Combating Drugs Neak Yuthea (right) speak at a policy dialogue on drug issues yesterday in Phnom Penh
National Aids Authority Vice Chair Tia Phalla (centre) and Deputy Secretary-General of the National Authority for Combating Drugs Neak Yuthea (right) speak at a policy dialogue on drug issues yesterday in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

Civil society, government meet over anti-drug campaign

A meeting between local NGOs, recovering drug users, government agencies and UNAIDS yesterday highlighted tensions between civil society and the government with regards to substance abuse as authorities express a desire to extend the Kingdom’s six-month-old controversial anti-drug campaign.

HIV/AIDS NGO Khana billed the event as a policy dialogue based around “Support! Don’t Punish”, a global advocacy campaign calling for reforms that emphasise rehabilitation over criminalisation of drug users.

Deputy Secretary-General of the National Authority for Combating Drugs Neak Yuthea defended the anti-drug campaign, saying that in six months, there were “no human rights violations, no blood, no killing”, and claimed that police never sent drug users to prison, only to rehabilitation facilities.

However, Sou Sochenda, a manager at Khana, contended that many of those arrested as drug traffickers during the campaign were in fact engaging in little more than petty dealing to support their own habits, and asked if the government could employ alternatives to incarceration for such cases.

Responding to Sochenda, Yuthea replied, “You cannot mix the law with emotion.”

Ouk Tha, a representative of the Cambodian Network of People Who Use Drugs, asked if the government could release drug users held in detention centres to receive methadone substitution therapy or anti-retroviral treatment for HIV.

Yuthea said that the government should consider establishing more convenient methadone treatment points.

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