-- Companies, Donors Should Press Government to Close Centers
(Bangkok) - People detained by the police in Vietnam  for
using drugs are held without due process for years, forced to
work for little or no pay, and suffer torture and physical
violence, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
Government-run drug detention centers, mandated to "treat" and
"rehabilitate" drug users, are little more than forced labor
camps where drug users work six days a week processing cashews,
sewing garments, or manufacturing other items.
The 121-page report, "The Rehab Archipelago: Forced Labor and
Other Abuses in Drug Detention Centers in Southern Vietnam,"
documents the experiences of people confined to 14 detention
centers under the authority of the Ho Chi Minh City government.
Refusing to work, or violating center rules, results in
punishment that in some cases is torture. Quynh Luu, a former
detainee who was caught trying to escape from one center,
described his punishment: "First they beat my legs so that I
couldn't run off again... [Then] they shocked me with an electric
baton [and] kept me in the punishment room for a month."
"Tens of thousands of men, women and children are being held
against their will in government-run forced labor centers in
Vietnam," said Joe Amon , health and human rights director at
Human Rights Watch. "This is not drug treatment, the centers
should be closed, and these people should be released."
International donor support to the centers, and to the Vietnamese
government's Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs,
which oversees them, can have the perverse impact of enabling the
government to continue to detain HIV-positive drug users, Human
Rights Watch said. Under Vietnamese law, HIV-positive detainees
have a right to be released if drug detention centers cannot
provide appropriate medical care.
Vietnam's system of forced labor centers for drug users has its
origin in "re-education through labor" camps for drug users and
sex workers established following the victory of North Vietnam in
1975. The centers received renewed political support in the
mid-1990s during a government campaign to eradicate so-called
"social evils," including drug use. As Vietnam's economy has
modernized, the system has expanded. In 2000, there were 56 such
centers across Vietnam; by early 2011, there were 123.
People are commonly held in the centers after police detain them
or family members "volunteer" them for detention. In a few cases,
individuals volunteer themselves, believing the centers provide
effective drug dependency treatment.
Former detainees told Human Rights Watch that they were sent to
the centers without a formal legal hearing or trial, and without
seeing a lawyer or judge. They said that they were unaware of any
means to review or appeal the decision to detain them. Those
detainees who entered on a voluntary basis said that they were
not free to leave and that their detention was arbitrarily
extended by center management or changes in government policy.
Detainees described performing menial labor for long periods
processing cashews, farming, sewing clothing and shopping bags,
working in construction, and manufacturing products made from
wood, plastic, bamboo, and rattan. Kinh Mon, a former detainee,
told Human Rights Watch: "I did cashew husking for three years. I
worked six and a half to eight hours a day to finish my quota.
The fluid from the cashews burned my skin."
Some detainees work for years without pay. Others are paid a
fraction of the minimum wage, and center management deducts food,
lodging and so-called "management fees" from their pay. At the
end of their detention, some detainees said, their families had
to pay the centers for debts that center officials claimed the
Since 1994, international donors have worked with these centers
on "capacity building," including training center staff in forms
of drug dependency treatment and support for HIV interventions.
The HIV prevalence of detainees is unknown, but has been
variously reported at between 15 and 60 percent. Most centers
offer no antiretroviral treatment or even basic medical care.
Some former detainees provided Human Rights Watch with the names
of companies that allegedly had products processed in the
centers. However the lack of transparency or any publicly
accessible list of companies that have contracts with these
government-run detention centers made corroborating the
involvement of companies difficult. Often, detainees did not know
the brand or company owning the products they worked on. Human
Rights Watch said it is investigating companies that may have
contracted with the detention centers.
Among the companies whose goods some detainees said they were
forced to process were two Vietnamese companies, Son Long JSC, a
cashew processing company, and Tran Boi Production Co. Ltd.,
which manufactures plastic goods. Human Rights Watch sent
correspondence to both companies a number of times seeking their
comments, but neither company replied.
Vietnamese media reports over the past decade identify both Son
Long JSC and Tran Boi Productions Co. Ltd as producing products
with detention center detainees. In 2011, the director of one
detention center told a foreign journalist, with whom Human
Rights Watch met, that Son Long JSC oversaw cashew processing
within his center.
"Forced labor is not treatment, and profit-making is not
rehabilitation," Amon said. "Donors should recognize that
building the capacity of these centers perpetuates injustice, and
companies should make sure their contractors and suppliers are
not using goods from these centers."
Human Rights Watch called on the government of Vietnam to close
down these centers permanently and to conduct an immediate,
thorough, and independent investigation into torture, ill
treatment, arbitrary detention, and other abuses in the country's
drug detention centers. The government should also make public a
list of all companies that have contracts with detention centers
for processing or manufacturing products.
Donors, and their implementing agencies, should review their
assistance to detention centers and ensure that no funding is
supporting policies or programs that violate international human
Companies working with Vietnam's drug detention centers,
including through sub-contractors, should end such relationships
immediately, Human Rights Watch said.
"People who are dependent on drugs in Vietnam need access to
community-based, voluntary treatment," Amon said. "Instead, the
government is locking them up, private companies are exploiting
their labor, and international donors are turning a blind eye to
the torture and abuses they face."
Selected accounts from individuals interviewed for "The Rehab
I was caught by police in a roundup of drug users.... They took
me to the police station in the morning and by that evening I was
in the drug center.... I saw no lawyer, no judge.
-- Quy Hop, detained in Binh Duc center (Binh Phuoc province) for
People did refuse to work but they were sent to the disciplinary
room. There they worked longer hours with more strenuous work and
if they balked at that work; then they were beaten. No one
refused to work completely.
-- Ly Nhan, detained in Nhi Xuan center (Ho Chi Minh City) for
I had a quota of 30 kilos [of cashews] a day and worked until
they were done. If you refused to work you were sent to the
punishment room and after a month [there] you agreed to work
-- Vu Ban, detained in Center No. 2 (Lam Dong province) for five
Work was compulsory. We produced bamboo furniture, bamboo
products, and plastic drinking straws. We were paid by the hour
for work eight-hour days, six days a week.
-- Luc Ngan, a child when first detained for three-and-a-half
years at Youth Center No. 2 (Ho Chi Minh City)
On paper I earned [VND] 120,000 a month but they took it. The
center staff said it paid for our food and clothes.
-- Quynh Luu, who spent over five years in detention in Center
No. 3 (Binh Duong province)
If we opposed the staff they beat us with a one-meter, six-sided
wooden truncheon. Detainees had the bones in their arms and legs
broken. This was normal life inside.
-- Dong Van, detained for over four years in Center No. 5 (Dak
[The solitary confinement cell] was about two meters by two
meters with a small seat and small window. A toilet hole led
outside. You could be held alone there for one to four months.
-- Cho Don, a woman detained for five years in Phu Van center
(Binh Phuoc province)
No one refused to work by not going to the workplace. Everyone
worked, including the children.
-- Thai Hoa, detained at Youth Center No. 2 (Ho Chi Minh City)
for five years