I am writing to you in reference to research Human Rights Watch is conducting on human rights abuses in Somsanga drug detention center. The center, also known as the Somsanga Treatment and Rehabilitation Center, is located in Somsanga village (Saysetha district) near Vientiane.
We are contacting you to provide information on the findings of our research and to request your cooperation in making available information on your organization’s involvement with this center.
Our research to date has documented a number of serious concerns in Somsanga drug detention center, including:
- People are detained in the center without due process. Detainees have no practical opportunity to gain access to a lawyer, demand a hearing, or to appeal the decision to detain them.
- In addition to suspected drug users, authorities arbitrarily detain beggars, the homeless people, children and the mentally ill in the center.
- Staff and detainee guards at the center physically abuse detainees as punishment for infringements of center rules (including the prohibition on attempting to escape).
- Detainees report that persons held in Somsanga regularly attempt to commit suicide.
With respect to dealings that your organization may have with Somsanga drug detention center, we would be grateful if you can provide us with the following information:
- A description of your organization’s current and past projects with or in Somsanga drug detention center, including:
- The total budget and donor for projects related to Somsanga, by year;
- The specific type of activities conducted, by year, including:
- Any funding or in-kind support of activities providing direct or indirect services to individuals held in Somsanga drug detention center, and the nature of that funding or in-kind support;
- Any funding or in-kind support of activities providing direct or indirect services (including trainings, study tours, conference sponsorship, etc.) to staff in Somsanga, and the nature of that funding or in-kind support;
- Any salary support to staff of Somsanga, or government of Lao PDR officials or employees (including Lao Commission on Drugs Control staff and healthcare providers) who work in (including on an irregular or part-time basis), or are responsible for, the Somsanga drug detention center, and the amount of that salary support;
- Any support for the construction of new, or renovation of existing, physical infrastructure in Somsanga drug detention center (and a precise description of that infrastructure).
- The monitoring and evaluation mechanisms in place for activities related to Somsanga drug detention center. Specifically:
- The indicators to measure progress regarding project goals and activities;
- Whether staff of your organization routinely or periodically visit Somsanga drug detention center;
- Whether your organization has any stated policy or procedures for the handling of reports of suspected human rights violations witnessed or received by your staff or those implementing your projects (if so, please provide a copy of this policy);
- Whether your organization has any stated policy outlining the legal and/or ethical principles for its involvement in drug detention centers (if so, please provide a copy of this policy).
Please also describe:
- Any reports of suspected human rights violations (such as arbitrary detention, ill treatment) or illegal acts against detainees in Somsanga drug detention center documented by your organization’s staff and the steps taken by your organization in response to such reports;
- Whether your organization is aware of any reports of detainee deaths in custody (including suicides) in Somsanga. If so, please provide those reports, and any additional information you may have on the results of any investigations of detainee deaths in custody, and in particular any actions adopted to prevent detainee suicides.
- Whether your organization is aware of any reports of beggars, the homeless people, children and the mentally ill detained in Somsanga, and the legal basis for such detentions;
- Please outline any other steps your organization has taken in response to concerns about suspected human rights violations (such as arbitrary detention, ill treatment), illegal acts against detainees, or detainee deaths in custody in Somsanga drug detention center.
We welcome your response and any other comments you may wish to bring to our attention regarding our findings, ideally within the next four weeks, by [date]. Any responses or comments you wish to make will be reflected in our reporting and we may publish these responses, and this request, in full.
Joseph J. Amon, PhD, MSPH
Health and Human Rights Division
Human Rights Watch