In 2004, Que Phong, a Vietnamese man then in his late 20's, decided to seek help for his heroin addiction. He traveled to Binh Phuoc, a border province in the southern part of the country, and signed up for what he thought would be 12 months of treatment. Instead, he was kept in a facility for five years, husking and peeling cashews for six to seven hours a day despite the fact that the cashew resin burned his fingers.

"If you refused to work they slapped you. If you still refused to work they sent you to the punishment room. Everyone worked," Phong said. "For a month they put me in the punishment room with five or six others. It was a small room. We had no beds and showered only once a week. We still worked, but were assigned the hardest jobs on the coffee farm." After a year, Phong was told that his treatment was extended by a year, and then three years after that.

Phong is not the only one.

Human Rights Watch has released a report detailing the use of mandatory drug-testing centers in various countries such as Lao PDR, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and China, in an effort to strengthen the call for their closure. Used to round up drug addicts, homeless people, people with psychosocial disabilities and sex workers, detainees are subject to inhumane conditions, often supported by well-meaning international aid organizations and foreign governments.

While Phong's story is not singular in its brutality, it differs from the majority of detainees in that he volunteered for treatment. Most people are simply shuffled away, without any chance to contact a lawyer or plead a case in court. Detainees could be as young as 12 years of age, housed in the same place as adults, contrary to international guidelines. Sometimes the police pick them up when they seek aid at HIV prevention or testing organizations. Other times, family members notify or pay police officers to take them away for real or imagined problems.

The facilities do not use any evidence-based methods to combat drug addiction. Instead, former detainees reported the reliance on forced labor, told that sweating out the toxins would cure them. The products that detainees make are often sold by local companies to supply multinational organizations.

Detainees report brutal, inhumane conditions. Food is often inadequate or nonexistent, and many former detainees reported symptoms consistent with beriberi, or a Vitamin B-1 deficiency. If they fail to work quickly enough or are caught smoking cigarettes, they are beaten. In one facility, detainees reportedly are tied up in the sun for hours without access to food and water. If they are caught trying to escape, punishment is even worse. For those unlucky enough to be injured while attempting an escape, the punishment can lead to permanent disfigurement or disability.

One former detainee reported having broken both of his feet during his failed escape. When he was finished being reprimanded in a solitary punishment cell, he said that he was crippled.

Some former detainees report that their time there put them at increased risk for HIV and AIDS. Though mandatory HIV testing is common in the facilities, the results are often withheld from the detainees. In fact, in Vietnamese drug detention facilities, HIV prevalence can run as high as 60 percent. Some research has found higher rates of HIV infection among people who had been housed in these centers than people who had not.

Aside from physical abuse, sexual assault runs rampant as well. One individual said, "The guards use a pretext to get the women out of the room, like they made a mistake. Sometimes they raped the same women five days consecutively because there were no new arrivals…They raped a mute woman about five or six times. I saw this with my own eyes. Other times I heard her scream…I just heard the way [she] tried to make a sound."

Indeed, many of the guards are unapologetic about the sexual assault, which many describe as taking place against women as well as children. They admit that HIV testing was used largely in order to establish which of the women they could rape without using a condom. One guard said to Human Rights Watch, "Women [in detention] need comforting, especially the younger ones. I would sleep with them to comfort them and then give them some heroin to make them feel better."

Despite the human-rights abuses, many organizations, such as CARE International, World Bank, and USAID/PEPFAR supply or have supplied funding to the detention centers. The US Embassy in Vientiane is one of the largest donors to the Somsanga center in Lao PDR, which its government uses as a dumping ground for "undesirable" people, supplying money to build fences and detention blocks. In June, the US Embassy announced that it would give further funding to upgrade Somsanga center, but did not address how they would help to ensure the respect of due-process of law. Despite extensive media coverage in Lao PDR on Somsanga center, the US Embassy denied knowing about any civil rights abuses.

Of course, the philanthropic organizations could have claimed to know nothing about the conditions in the center. When representatives from their organizations arrived at the locations, they were often scrubbed clean and detainees were given nice clothes to wear and orders to be well-behaved. But in fact, detainees tell a very different story about the conditions. "Some people think that to die is better than staying there," one individual said.