HRW Urges Cambodia to Shut ‘Unjust’ Detention Centers

Hundreds of drug users, sex workers, beggars and street children are unlawfully detained in Cambodian rehabilitation centers where they face torture, sexual violence and forced labor, a leading rights group said Monday.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for the immediate closure of eight detention centers that are supposedly for the treatment of drug dependency.

In a report titled “They Treat Us Like Animals”, it said people recently confined in the centers described being thrashed with rubber water hoses and hit with sticks or branches.

Former female detainees described rape and other sexual abuse by male guards while many detainees said they were forced to work with no pay in the centers or on construction sites, according to HRW.

“Inside Cambodia’s drug detention centers, arbitrary detention, forced labor, and physical and sexual abuse are carried out with impunity,” said HRW health and human rights director Joseph Amon.

“These centers are ineffective, unjust, and violate human rights,” Amon said.

Cambodian government officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

The report said that during 2012 about 2,200 people were confined in the centers — which are run by various branches of the Cambodian state, including the police and the ministry of social affairs — usually for up to six months.

“The government uses these centers as dumping grounds for beggars, sex workers, street children, and other ‘undesirables’, often in advance of high-profile visits by foreign dignitaries,” Amon said.

HRW alleged unaccompanied children as young as six are held in the same rooms as adults, where they are kept in chains, beaten and forced to perform exhausting physical exercises.

“Children who use drugs or who live on the streets should be protected from harm, not locked up, beaten, and abused,” Amon said.

UN health officials have previously questioned the treatment methods used at the drug rehabilitation centers.

Last year, 12 UN agencies called on countries with such centers to close them without delay and to release the detainees.

Cambodia has not publicly responded to the call although it has closed three drug detention centers, HRW said.