UN expert urges Vietnam to close rehab centers

AP News

12/5/2011 10:52:54 PM - AP News

A United Nations-appointed expert is urging Vietnam's government to close down rehabilitation centers for drug users and sex workers following criticism of abuses by an international rights group, calling them "counterproductive."

Anand Grover, a special rapporteur for the U.N. Human Rights Council, said Monday at the end of a 10-day visit to Vietnam that the centers violate drug users' rights and are ineffective. He said the government should instead expand alternative treatments for drug users.

"The detainees are denied the right to be free from nonconsensual treatment as well as the right to informed consent in all medically related decisions," he said in a statement.

His criticism followed a report by Human Rights Watch calling for Vietnam to shut down drug rehabilitation centers that it said subject inmates to abuses.

Grover said compulsory detention in the centers also raises concerns about the due process for the detainees, who "have no right to know about their case against them and challenge it at a hearing before the decision is made."

He called the centers "ineffective and counterproductive," and said he "wholeheartedly" supports their closure.

"It's essential to ensure that the considerable resources now invested in these centers are used instead to expand alternative treatments for injecting drug users," said Grover, who is co-founder and director of the HIV/AIDS unit for India's Lawyers Collective, a nongovernmental organization that promotes human rights in India.

He said Vietnam's rehabilitation centers perpetuate the stigmatization and discrimination of drug users and sex workers in society and impede the government's efforts to fight HIV/AIDS.

Vietnam's Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

In September, New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a 126-page report urging Vietnam to shut down drug rehabilitation centers that it said subject inmates to abuse and forced labor.

It accused Vietnam of imprisoning hundreds of thousands of drug addicts over the past decade without due process and forcing them to work long hours for little pay.

At the time, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga called the report "groundless," saying compulsory drug rehabilitation in Vietnam is "humane, effective and beneficial for drug users, community and society."

Nga said Vietnam's drug rehabilitation centers comply with Vietnamese law and are "in line" with drug-treatment principles set by the U.S., the U.N. and the World Health Organization.

The rehabilitation centers are part of communist Vietnam's ongoing campaign against drug abuse, prostitution and other "social evils."