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People who use drugs in Cambodia are at risk of arbitrary detention in centers where they suffer torture, physical and sexual violence, and other forms of cruel punishment, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Detention centers, mandated to treat and ‘rehabilitate' drug users, instead subject them to electric shocks, beatings with electrical wire, forced labor, and harsh military drills.

In the 93-page report, "Skin on the Cable," Human Rights Watch documents detainees being beaten, raped, forced to donate blood, and subjected to painful physical punishments such as "rolling like a barrel" and being chained while standing in the sun. Human Rights Watch also reported that a large number of detainees told of receiving rotten or insect-ridden food and symptoms of diseases consistent with nutritional deficiencies.

"Individuals in these centers are not being treated or rehabilitated, they are being illegally detained and often tortured," said Joseph Amon, director of the Health and Human Rights division at Human Rights Watch. "These centers do not need to be revamped or modified; they need to be shut down."

According to the report, people are frequently arbitrarily arrested without a warrant or without reasonable cause, often on the request of a relative or as part of periodic police round-ups of people considered "undesirable." They are often lied to - or simply not informed - about the reasons of their arrest. They have no access to a lawyer during their period in police custody or during the subsequent period of detention in the centers.

Military drills, sweating while exercising, and laboring are the most common means used to "cure" drug dependence in these centers, which are operated by various government entities, including military police and civilian police forces. "Vocational training" activities which take place in some centers appear motivated by benefits to the center staff as opposed to detainees. The report highlighted the large number of children and individuals with mental illnesses also detained within the centers. Both groups, according to the report, were subject to similar physical abuses.

Human Rights Watch called on the Royal Cambodian Government to permanently close its drug detention centers and conduct a thorough investigation of acts of torture, ill treatment, arbitrary detention, and other abuses occurring in them. Torture and inhuman treatment are prohibited by both the government's international human rights obligations and the Constitution of Cambodia.

"The government of Cambodia must stop the torture occurring in these centers" said Amon. "Drug dependency can be addressed through expanded voluntary, community-based, outpatient treatment that respects human rights and is consistent with international standards."

Selected accounts from individuals interviewed for "Skin on the Cable":

"I think this is not a rehab center but a torturing center." - Kakada, former detainee

"[A staff member] would use the cable to beat people...On each whip the person's skin would come off and stick on the cable..." - M'noh, age 16, describing whippings he witnessed in the Social Affairs "Youth Rehabilitation Center" in Choam Chao

"[After arrest] the police search my body, they take my money, they also keep my drugs...They say, ‘If you don't have money, why don't you go for a walk with me?...[The police] drove me to a guest house.... How can you refuse to give him sex? You must do it. There were two officers. [I had sex with] each one time. After that they let me go home." - Minea, a woman in her mid 20's who uses drugs, explaining how she was raped by two police officers

"[Shortly after arrival] I was knocked out. Other inmates beat me....They just covered me with a blanket and beat me...They beat me in the face, my chest, my side. I don't know how long it lasted...The staff had ordered the inmates to beat me. The staff said, ‘The new chicken has arrived, let's pluck its feathers and eat it!'" - Duongchem, former detainee

This press release also available in: Khmer

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