Against the backdrop of COVID-19, recalling the 2012 joint statement on compulsory drug detention and rehabilitation centers and the 2020 joint statement on COVID-19 in prisons and other closed settings, United Nations entities urgently appeal to member states to permanently close compulsory drug detention and rehabilitation centers and implement voluntary, evidence-informed and rights-based health and social services in the community as an important measure to curb the spread of COVID-19 and to facilitate the recovery and reintegration of those in the centers back into their families and communities.
The COVID-19 pandemic is posing multiple challenges to countries in Asia and the Pacific in designing and implementing response and recovery measures that are efficient and respect the rights of all people, with the objective of leaving no one behind.
Among the groups particularly at risk of contracting the virus are people in compulsory drug detention and rehabilitation centers. They are often comprised of people who are suspected of using drugs or being dependent on drugs, people who have engaged in sex work, or children who have been victims of sexual exploitation.
Criteria for detention in these centers vary within and among countries, but people are often detained without sufficient due process, legal safeguards or judicial review in the name of “treatment” or “rehabilitation”. They face higher vulnerabilities, including HIV, TB as well as COVID-19, as a result of sub-standard living conditions, including massive overcrowding and related challenges in maintaining physical distancing.
Moreover, detention in these centers has been reported to involve forced labor, lack of adequate nutrition, physical and sexual violence, and denial or comparatively lower access to and quality of healthcare services.
During this global health emergency, United Nations entities reiterate their call on member states that operate compulsory drug detention and rehabilitation centers to close them permanently without further delay, to release individuals detained as an important additional measure to curb the spread of COVID-19 and to refrain from the use of any other form of detention.
The United Nations entities stand ready to work with member states as they take steps to permanently close compulsory drug detention and rehabilitation centers and to transition to an evidence-informed system of voluntary community-based treatment and services that are aligned with international guidelines and principles of drug dependence treatment, drug use and human rights.
Eamonn Murphy is UNAIDS regional director for Asia and the Pacific and Cynthia Veliko is regional representative of OHCHR, Regional Office for South East Asia.
John Aylieff, WFP regional director, Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific; Valerie Cliff, UNDP deputy assistant administrator, deputy regional director for Asia and the Pacific, director for Bangkok Regional Hub; Jeremy Douglas, UNODC regional representative, Regional Office for Southeast Asia and the Pacific; Jean Gough, UNICEF regional director for South Asia; Karin Hulshof, regional director UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Office; Sergey Kapinos, representative UNODC Regional Office for South Asia; Takeshi Kasai, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific; Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO regional director for South-East Asia; Maria Nenette Motus, regional director, IOM Regional Office for Asia and Pacific; Eamonn Murphy, UNAIDS regional director for Asia and the Pacific; Mohammad Naciri, regional director of UN Women Asia and the Pacific; Tomoko Nishimoto, assistant director-general and regional director, ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific; Indrika Ratwatte, UNHCR director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific and Cynthia Veliko, regional representative OHCHR, Regional Office for South East Asia, also signed the article.
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