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Laos: Minority Hmong may be held at abusive detention centre, rights watchdog says
Authorities in Laos are locking up ethnic minority Hmong along with other "undesirables" in a detention centre where people face brutal beatings if they try to escape, according to a leading human rights group.
Human Rights Watch claims Lao officials use the Somsanga Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre in Vientiane as a "dumping ground" for those seen as socially undesirable. Along with perceived drug users, people with mental disabilities, thieves, homeless people and beggars, authorities have jailed ethnic Hmong at the facility, according to HRW.
In a report released October 11, HRW says there is evidence Hmong are being detained at the "bleak and abusive detention facility", which is targeted toward perceived drug users. People formerly held in Somsanga told HRW researchers they saw Hmong people detained, even though they did not appear to be drug users.
The Hmong minority group has faced persecution in Laos after members of the community backed the United States' anti-communist operations in the region in the 1960s and 1970s.
HRW says it does not have enough information to determine if the Hmong held at Somsanga were detained specifically because of their ethnicity. Instead, it wants Lao authorities to investigate its allegations of arbitrary detention and abuse at the centre.
"It's not clear why ethnic Hmong are being held at Somsanga," said Joe Amon, the group's director of health and human rights. "They may be there as opium users, or there may be other reasons. There's no due process for anyone before being detained in Somsanga and the authorities use the centre as a dumping ground for all sorts of people they consider undesirable."
Though Somsanga is nominally a facility for the treatment of drug users, Amon says people held there receive little, if any, effective addictions treatment.
"At the centre, people are held all day long. They're not provided any treatment. They're not provided much food," Amon said. "They're behind locked doors, high walls, barbed wire fences. This is not a treatment centre."
HRW is demanding that authorities shut down the centre. It also wants international groups and donors involved in funding programmes at the centre--a list that includes the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the German Development Agency--to investigate human rights violations in Somsanga, as well as their own support for the facility.
Photo: A guard lectures detainees in Somsanga center in Vientiane, Lao PDR. Classes in drug use and courses such as vocational training may be beneficial for some people trying to overcome drug dependency, but there is no rationale for premising such services on months or years of involuntary detention.
Credit: Arantxa Cedillo