ASEAN countries continue to mete out extreme punishments against people suspected of using or selling drugs. Human rights advocates are concerned that President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal drug suppression tactics, which have led to an estimated 12,000 people killed in the Philippines since June 2016, have emboldened other countries in the region to take similarly harsh measures. Amnesty International recently highlighted its concern in Indonesia, having documented at least 60 killings of drug suspects there this year. The rise in killings of alleged drug suspects follows the rhetorical sanction of such behavior by political leaders: in Indonesia’s case, both the head of the Narcotics Division and President Joko Widodo vocalized support for being “merciless” toward drug dealers.

In Cambodia, the arrest of people who use drugs continues to escalate since the initiation of a campaign against drug trafficking and use. By July, 9400 alleged drug users were arrested. While the impact of arrests on curbing drug use and trafficking has been questionable, the rising number of people arrested has strained the detention centers in that country. Cambodia’s detention centers have long been criticized by rights advocates for their lack of appropriate living conditions and access to health services, and for physical abuse, among other rights violations. With swelling arrests and long periods of pre-trial detention, conditions at the centers have worsened. The UN Special Rapporteur for Cambodia conveyed evidence of such conditions at her meeting with the Ministry of Social Affairs following her visit to Prey Speu, a detention center that the country’s Prime Minister had recommended in 2016 be improved or shut down.  

People who use drugs are a UNAIDS “key population” requiring more attention and evidence-based support in order to reach global targets to end HIV/AIDS. This worsening environment further undermines, rather than protects, their legal status and human rights.

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