Compulsory drug detention in East and Southeast Asia: evolving government, UN and donor responses

Int J Drug Policy. 2014 Jan;25(1):13-20. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2013.05.019. Epub 2013 Jul 4.


According to official accounts, more than 235,000 people are detained in over 1000 compulsory drug detention centers in East and South East Asia. Individuals in such centers are held for periods of months to years, and can experience a wide range of human rights abuses, including violation of the rights to freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention; a fair trial; privacy; the highest attainable standard of health; and freedom from forced labor. Since 2010, an increasing number of United Nations agencies, human rights experts, and others have expressed concerns about rights abuses associated with compulsory drug detention centers, and since 2012, called for their closure. Although they do not represent a complete break from the past, these calls mark a significant shift from past engagement with drug detention, which included direct and indirect funding of detention centers and activities in detention centers by some donors. However, the lack of transparent governance, restrictions on free speech and prohibitions on monitoring by independent, international human rights organizations make assessing the evolving laws, policies and practices, as well as the attitudes of key governments officials, difficult. Looking specifically at publicly announced reforms and statements by government officials in China, Cambodia, Vietnam and Lao PDR reveals possible improvements in respect for the rights of drug users, and on-going challenges.

Keywords: Detention; Drug dependency; Drugs; Ethics; Human rights; Law.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cambodia
  • China
  • Drug Users / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Fund Raising*
  • Government*
  • Human Rights / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Humans
  • Laos
  • Mandatory Programs / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • United Nations*
  • Vietnam