THE Australian government partly funds projects in Vietnamese detention centres where tens of thousands of drug abusers are held for years against their will, work for little or no pay and suffer torture and physical abuse, Human Rights Watch investigators have found.
The centres that were supposedly set up to treat and rehabilitate drug abusers are little more than forced labour camps where detainees work six days a week processing cashews, sewing garments or manufacturing other items, the New York-based organisation says in a 129-page report to be released today.
The report says detainees who refuse to work are subjected to punishment or torture that includes electric shock treatment and weeks of isolation. Quynh Luu, a former detainee who was caught trying to escape from one centre, told investigators that at first he was beaten on the legs, then ”they shocked me with an electric baton and kept me in the punishment room for a month”.
The report says based on the widespread and systematic nature of abuses in the centres it is ”reasonable to assume that staff of the organisations working in the centres will witness some form of abuse”.
The Australian government’s international development agency AusAID funds CARE Australia through an eight-year $59 million regional HIV/AIDS program to provide harm reduction services in two centres, including the distribution of condoms, razors and toothbrushes.
Human Rights Watch called on AusAID, CARE Australia and other donors, including the World Bank and the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, to review their assistance to the centres to ensure that no funding is supporting policies or programs that violate international human rights laws.
An AusAID spokeswoman told The Age that no AusAID or CARE Australia staff have reported seeing abuses in the centres.
But the spokeswoman said the Australian government has urged Vietnam’s communist government to close the centres and set up more effective community-based centres. AusAID does not provide any direct funding for mandatory drug detention, the spokeswoman said.
CARE Australia’s chief executive, Julia Newton-Howes, said people in the centres are among the most vulnerable in Vietnam and CARE as a humanitarian aid organisation has a mandate to support them. ”The activities undertaken by CARE with centre residents … aim to reduce their marginalisation within the community, their vulnerability to sexually transmitted diseases, increase their access to support services and promote their re-integration into the community,” Ms Newton-Howes said.
Human Rights Watch says 40,000 men, women and children are being held in 123 forced labor centres for drug users that have their origin in re-education camps that were established following the victory of North Vietnam in 1975.
Human Rights Watch says people are commonly held in the centres after police detain them or family members volunteer them for detention.
Investigators photographed a bag of cashews at one centre that had a New South Wales address.