Feature story

Joint UN Statement calls for the closure of compulsory drug detention and rehabilitation centers

08 March 2012

The Joint Statement calls for compulsory drug detention and rehabilitation centres be replaced with voluntary, rights-based, evidence-informed programmes in the community.

Twelve United Nations entities have issued a Joined statement calling for the closure of compulsory drug detention and rehabilitation centers. The existence of such centers—which have been operating in many countries for the last 20 years—raises human rights issues and threatens the health of detainees, including through increased vulnerability to HIV and tuberculosis (TB) infection.

In recent years, the numbers of such centers and of the people confined in them have been on the rise. In Asia alone, it is estimated that some 300 000 people are kept in compulsory drug detention and rehabilitation centers. People who use or are suspected of using drugs, people who have engaged in sex work and children who have been victims of sexual exploitation are detained without due process in the name of “treatment” or “rehabilitation”.

Human rights experts, health practitioners, civil society and UN entities have raised serious concerns about these centres, including on grounds that they violate a broad range of human rights and that they jeopardise the health of those detained.

Terms used to describe compulsory drug detention and rehabilitation centers, their legal basis, and their management varies among countries. Regardless of these differences, the situation of individuals confined in these centres is far too similar. They are often arrested and detained without the benefit of sufficient due process. Conditions in the drug detention and rehabilitation centres often involve forced labour, beatings, substandard conditions and lack of access to evidence-informed health care, including for HIV prevention and treatment and for drug dependence. Some of those detained in these centers are children under the age of 18.

States that maintain these centres often present them as necessary to address drug use dependence and sex work. There is however no evidence that compulsory drug detention and rehabilitation centres represent an appropriate and effective environment for the treatment of drug dependence or for the protection and rehabilitation of those detained.

In some countries, UN entities have already been working with authorities to address the concerns raised by the centres and find alternatives to them.  The Joint Statement will enable coordinated and concerted efforts by the UN system at country, regional and global levels to support governments to close compulsory drug detention and rehabilitation centres and replace them with voluntary, rights-based, evidence-informed programmes in the community. In the coming weeks, UNAIDS Secretariat staff will be meeting with their government counterparts and UN and civil society partners to find the best ways to move forward on this important and urgent issue.

The UN entities that have signed on to the Joint Statement on Compulsory Drug Detention and rehabilitation Centres are: International Labour Organisation (ILO); Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO); United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC); United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women); World Food Programme (WFP); World Health Organisation (WHO); and Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).