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Earlier this month, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment released a report focusing “on certain forms of abuses in health-care settings that may cross a threshold of mistreatment.” According to this report, certain health care policies such as drug treatment can cover up abusive practices and torture that often go unnoticed. This report comes on the heels of a joint statement of 12 United Nations agencies which called for the close of compulsory drug detention and rehabilitation centers. Such centers were revealed to be sites of increased vulnerability to HIV and tuberculosis, lack of access to health care, and other such widespread human rights abuses.
In response, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged donors to seriously reconsider their funding policies, especially to compulsory drug detention centers. In their own private research into government-run detention centers in South and East Asian countries, HRW workers reached similar conclusions. They found that people placed in these detention centers are often held without due process and face serious abuse, physical and sexual violence, and forced labor in these centers. Often, these conditions are covered up under the label of “rehabilitation.”
International donors are major players who have continued to provide funding and support to many drug detention centers, even knowing the human rights consequences. Funding from the US, Australia, UN agencies, and the EU has contributed to the expansion of drug detention programs—a phenomenon that the UN and HRW are now seeking to end.
The Special Rapporteur’s report highlights many viable alternatives, such as establishing a mechanism to monitor drug dependence treatment practices. He and HRW caution against simply opening new centers, for the centers’ intrinsic structures and policies lends to human rights abuses and poor health conditions. HRW health and human rights advocacy director Rebecca Schleifer strongly advocates international donors to seek to, “make it a priority to end these abuses and redirect their support to voluntary, community-based treatment and other programs that truly respect drug users’ human rights.”
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