Several UN agencies on Monday demanded permanent closure of “compulsory drug detention and rehabilitation centers” in Asia and the Pacific.

In a joint statement by 16 UN entities, they said that member states of the UN in the region should implement voluntary, evidence-informed and rights-based health and social services in the community as an important measure to curb the spread of coronavirus.

“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,” the statement said.

“Among the groups particularly at risk of contracting the virus are people in compulsory drug detention and rehabilitation centers,” it said.

The UN experts asked the countries in the region to facilitate the recovery and reintegration of those in the centers back into their families and communities.

“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,” the statement said.

The UN experts expressed concern about detention in these centers saying criteria for detention 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,” it added.

“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,” the UN experts said.

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