Speaking at the inauguration of a new wing at the controversial Orkas Knhom – or “My Chance” – drug rehabilitation centre, Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong maintained there was a need to factor in human rights concerns when tackling drug issues.
His remarks were made on the eve of the arrival in Phnom Penh of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who has drawn criticism since coming to office for his policy of suspected drug dealers being shot on sight; the timing was not lost on Socheatvong.
“In the Philippines, the president doesn’t excuse drug traffickers. Now, they are accusing him of human rights abuses. So, how can we solve the problem of human rights and drugs?” Socheatvong said. “We don’t excuse traffickers, but users we regard as victims who have to be rehabilitated.”
The governor said Cambodia had progressed from being “just a crossroads for drug criminals, passing through Cambodia to other countries”, to a place where drug use is taking hold in society.
However, My Chance itself has been accused of human rights abuses in the past. A 2010 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) was damning of Cambodia’s rehab facilities. It found that beatings and torture were rife and described clients being subjected to forced detention, all in service of treatment it described as ineffective.
Socheatvong yesterday appeared to acknowledge the past criticism, while also alluding to the notorious Prey Speu social affairs centre but maintained “we need such a place”. Asked yesterday whether the issues in the Human Rights Watch report had been addressed, My Chance director Mom Chandany said she was unaware of them.
“I have no idea; I don’t know where they got their information from,” she said. She did, however, answer the forced detention allegation, saying that the decision to release patients was left to the centre’s doctors. “Some ask to leave, but we don’t let them because they are not yet rehabilitated,” she said.
HRW’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson, however, stood by the 2010 report, and said doctors’ oversight didn’t address the problem of detention at the centre being “arbitrary, without access to lawyers or a court trial”.
Meanwhile, Pin Sokhom, of NGO Friends International’s Mith Samlanh rehabilitation program, said drug use is becoming “more and more prevalent in Cambodian society”, and called for a more holistic approach to rehabilitation.
Additional reporting by Jack Davies