September 7, 2011


Vietnam does not allow international human rights organizations to freely conduct research or monitor human rights concerns in Vietnam. Nongovernmental organizations and others visiting drug detention centers are rarely, if ever, able to speak privately with detainees or see all parts (e.g., disciplinary rooms) of a center. As a result, obtaining and verifying information about human rights violations in drug detention centers presents great challenges.

Nonetheless, Human Rights Watch was able to conduct in-depth, confidential interviews with 34 people recently detained in 14 of 16 centers under the administration of Ho Chi Minh City authorities.[1] All 34 former detainees had been in detention within five years of the date of their interview with Human Rights Watch in 2010.[2] Information from former detainees throughout this period was consistent in terms of the forms, severity, and frequency of abuses reported. All former detainees whose testimony is included in this report come from Ho Chi Minh City or its immediate suburbs.

Of the 34 former detainees whose testimony forms the basis of this report, 10 are women and 3 were children (i.e. under the age of 18) when first detained.[3] Human Rights Watch spoke to an additional six people who had been held in drug detention centers elsewhere in Vietnam. Testimony from these six people, largely consistent with testimony from individuals in the centers administered by Ho Chi Minh City, is not included in this report because they had been detained in centers outside the geographic scope of inquiry.

All individuals interviewed provided verbal informed consent to participate. Individuals were assured that they could end the interview at any time or decline to answer any questions. Interviews were semi-structured and covered a number of topics related to illicit drug use, arrest, and detention conditions. To protect their confidentiality and safety, interviewees have been given pseudonyms, and in some cases other identifying information has been withheld.

Human Rights Watch also interviewed 17 current or former staff members of international organizations who have knowledge and experience regarding the situation of people who use drugs in Vietnam. As this report describes the experiences of former detainees, these interviews have not been included in this report although some information they provided has been used to corroborate testimony.

All US dollar equivalents to Vietnamese dong are approximate and based on an exchange rate of US$1: VND 19,500.

In May 2011, Human Rights Watch wrote to the head of the Vietnam’s Ministry of Labor to request information on Vietnam’s drug detention centers and solicit her response to violations documented in this report. This correspondence is attached in Annex 1.

Human Rights Watch also wrote to a number of companies whose goods were alleged by at least one former detainee to have been made in drug detention center asking for information on their operations. A template of this correspondence is attached in Annex 2. Human Rights Watch also contacted a number of donors and implementers who funded or implemented programs in Vietnam’s drug detention centers. A template of such correspondence is attached in Annex 3.

[1] 32 individuals interviewed were detained in 14 centers administered by Ho Chi Minh City officials and two individuals had been detained by Ho Chi Minh City authorities before being transferred to centers under the administration of other provinces. In addition to the 16 centers administered by Ho Chi Minh City officials, those authorities also operated an additional center (Trong Diem) in Binh Phuoc province until at least 2008. While Human Rights Watch spoke to former detainees of this particular center, this testimony has not been included in this report as government authorities no longer list it as a center for drug treatment and Human Rights Watch understands it is not currently operating as such. In one case, testimony from a former detainee of Trong Diem has been included in this report to describe the experience of being held in a solitary confinement cell. Former detainees of other centers have confirmed the existence of these types of cells in centers other than the Trong Diem center.

[2] Human Rights Watch uses the term detainees to refer to those who reported that they were detained against their will, as well as those who entered the centers on a voluntary basis. The term detainee is appropriate for those who enter on a voluntary basis because once inside the centers they are not free to leave. A high proportion of those who entered the centers on a voluntary basis subsequently had their detention extended without being offered an opportunity for release.

[3] The word “child” is used in this report to refer to anyone under the age of 18. The Convention on the Rights of the Child defines as a child “every human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.” Vietnam’s 2004 Law on Child Protection, Care and Education (Law on Child Protection) defines children as under 16 years of age, while Vietnam's Civil Code (art. 20) defines a child as anyone under 18. Vietnam's Penal Code of 1997 (revised in 1999) defines the age of criminal responsibility to be 14 (for criminal offenses) but 12 for administrative offenses. Vietnam's Labor Law sets the minimum age for employment at 18; however, children as young as 15 can be employed under certain circumstances. Vietnam's Law on Child Protection states in art. 2 that international law takes precedence over domestic in cases where national laws differ from international agreements that Vietnam has signed.