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Government rejects NGO report on “war on drugs”

Khuon Narim / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
CHRC spokesman Chin Malin speaks during a press conference at the Office of the Council of Ministers last month. KT/Khem Sovannara

The government criticised a report released by Amnesty International on their website yesterday. The report speaks about human rights violations committed over the government’s “war on drug” campaign. It has resulted in tens of thousands of people being arrested since it started in 2017.

Chin Malin, spokesman of the Justice Ministry and vice-chairman of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee said yesterday: “We do not deny [report], but we are still doubtful of the accuracy of the report. How did they do their research, collect information and come to their conclusion?”

He said the report of Amnesty International has no scientific basis and doubts the accuracy of their sources for the interviews they conducted.

Mr. Malin questioned whether the civil rights group discussed with relevant parties, especially the anti-drug authorities which is in charge of preventing and reducing drug cases in the Kingdom.

“What they state are all illegal acts like torturing, arresting arbitrarily, including officials abusing their power. If they have the evidence, please show it to us; which are the cases and then make a report to the government. We will look into it further and take legal action if deemed necessary,” he said.

“If their intention is to prevent human rights violation and drug trafficking, they should have a round table discussion with the government presenting the facts. Action will be taken against those who are guilty of committing wrongful acts,” Mr. Main said.

The new 78 page report titled, “Substance abuses: The human cost of Cambodia’s anti-drug campaign released yesterday on their website [Wednesday,13] said: how the authorities prey on poor and marginalized people, arbitrarily carry out arrests, routinely subject suspects to torture and other forms of ill-treatment, and dispatch those who can’t buy their freedom to severely overcrowded prisons and pseudo “rehabilitation centers” in which detainees are denied healthcare and are subjected to severe abuse.

Amnesty International, Cambodia said the report is based primarily on field research carried out in November and December 2019 when they conducted interviews with 51 people, including 34 people who currently use or previously used drugs.

“Over the three years since its launch, the country’s campaign against drugs has not only failed in its primary mission of reducing drug use and drug-related harms, it has led to serious and systematic human rights violations,” it said.

Sreyneang, a 30-year-old woman in Phnom Penh, told Amnesty International: “They asked me how many times I sold drugs. The police officers said if I didn’t confess, he would use the taser on me,” read the report.

It said there were at least 55,770 people arrested on suspicion of using or selling drugs between January 2017 and March 2020. The government’s anti-drug campaign is plaguing both the country’s prisons and its drug detention centers.

Cambodia’s prison population has skyrocketed by 78% since the campaign started, from 21,900 at the end of 2016 to over 38,990 in March 2020, even though Cambodia’s prisons only can accommodate an estimated capacity of 26,593.

Since January 2017 the Cambodian government embarked on a massive anti-drug campaign. The campaign’s overwhelming emphasis on detention and prosecution – rather than ensuring access to adequate healthcare for people who use drugs – has led to a burgeoning public health and human rights crisis, it continues.

The Amnesty International is calling for an urgent review of the Cambodian government’s approach to drugs to bring it into line with international human rights standards, by immediately and permanently closing all drug detention centers, rolling out evidence-based drug treatment services, and decriminalising the use and possession of drugs for personal use.

Mr. Malin called on the Amnesty International to submit evidence which claimed police officers tortured people after arresting them during the anti-drug campaign.

“If they were questioned and tortured by police or had violated the rights of freedom of citizens, please show us the evidence and which cases that are being referred to and we will take legal action,” and “For any person who breaks the law, they will face the law,” he said.

General Meas Vyrith, secretary-general at the National Authorities Combating Drug (NACD) said yesterday said the NACD has not received the report by Amnesty International.

“Usually during the implementation and enforcement of the law, there are positive and negative points. However sometimes they [Amnesty International] use a small negative point and exaggerate the issue,” he said.

“I acknowledge we have not perfected the process a 100 percent. Drugs is a global issues which every country is challenged with,” Gen Vyrith said. “They have already assumed the worst of us even if we have done good things,” he said.

Phay Siphan, the government spokesman unit said yesterday said its report does not reflect the facts of what is happing in Cambodia, noting the government respects human rights and gives a space for freedom of expression.

“We do not need someone to teach us about human rights norms because the government has its own vision and strategy to reform for improvements,” Mr. Siphan said.

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