In January 2017, the Cambodian government initiated a six-month campaign against drugs, which has been repeatedly and indefinitely extended since that time. The campaign has seen at least 55,770 people arrested on suspicion of using or selling drugs between January 2017 and March 2020.
To date, the campaign’s overwhelming emphasis on detention and prosecution –rather than ensuring access to adequate healthcare for people who use drugs, including treatment, rehabilitation, and harm reduction –has led to an escalatingpublic health and human rights crisis.
Over three years since its launch, the country’s campaign against drugs has not only failed in its primary mission of reducing drug use and drug-related harms, it has led to serious and systematic human rights violations. Reflecting on her experience of the anti-drug campaign, Naran, a 41-year-old methadone service user, told Amnesty International: “To be a drug user is to be treated like an animal.”
This report, which is based on field research carried out by Amnesty International in November and December 2019, documents the extensive human rights violations associated with the Cambodian government’s anti-drug campaign. The vast majority of people interviewed by Amnesty International —notably people who were arrested and detained as part of the campaign, as well as their family members —came from poor and marginalised communities.
People interviewed by Amnesty International were detained under one of two parallel systems of detention and punishment: the criminal justice system or drug-related administrative detention. The criminal prosecutions documented by Amnesty International were plagued by violations of fair trial rights. For individuals from poor and marginalised communities, simply being a bystander in the wrong place at the wrong time or testing positive to a forced drug test can lead to years in jail, sometimes even under trafficking charges.