The federal government has denied using taxpayer dollars to fund Vietnamese drug rehabilitation centres which one advocacy group has labelled nothing more than “forced labour camps”.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Vietnam is imprisoning hundreds of thousands of drug addicts and subjecting them to abuse and forced labour through its compulsory drug detention centres.
It’s called on international donors, including Australia, the United States and the United Nations to halt funding, accusing them of helping “facilitate human rights abuses”.
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But an AusAID spokeswoman said Australia did not fund the mandatory drug centres, and was actively lobbying Hanoi to have them shut down.
She said Australian dollars are, however, provided directly to drug users in the centres through the HIV/AIDS Asia Regional program, to which AusAID has contributed $4 million over five years.
“Evidence has shown compulsory drug detention centres to be both ineffective and counterproductive in the treatment of intravenous drug users and in containing the spread of HIV,” she said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The Australian government continues to make regular representations to the government of Vietnam urging it to close these centres in favour of more effective community-based support centres and to focus on the treatment of intravenous drug users in their own communities.”
Australia’s ambassador to Vietnam visited two detention centres just last month advocating for a closure of the mandatory facilities and the punitive treatment of drug users.
HRW has called drug treatment at the centres “ineffective and abusive,” claiming donor support for health services allows Vietnam to “maximise profits” by detaining drug addicts for longer periods and forcing them to do manual labour.
It said the centres were little more than “forced labour camps”.
“People who are dependent on drugs in Vietnam need access to community-based, voluntary treatment,” said Joe Amon, HRW’s health and human rights director.
“Instead, the government is locking them up, private companies are exploiting their labour and international donors are turning a blind eye to the torture and abuses they face.”
The AusAID spokeswoman said the department was not aware of any reports from its staff about abuse in the centres.
Inmates inside the Vietnamese drug facilities have detailed beatings and spells of solitary confinement, and some who attempted escape say they were captured and shocked with an electric baton as punishment.
The claims are detailed in a HRW report, which took in the accounts of 34 former detainees in 2010 who were held at 14 centres in and around southern Ho Chi Minh City.
The report also accused the Vietnamese government of forcing prisoners to sew clothing, lay bricks or husk cashews and then paying them below the minimum monthly wage.
China and other south-east Asian countries have also come under fire from rights groups in recent years for alleged human rights violations inside similar drug rehabilitation facilities.
There are 138,000 drug addicts in Vietnam and 30 per cent them are HIV positive, down from 60 per cent in 2006.