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ID: 456

Type of submission: Oral

Conference track: Policy

Topics: Drug Policy Reform and Advocacy; Punitive Laws and Law Enforcement

Presenting author: Gloria Lai

Presenting author biography:

Gloria leads on IDPC’s Asia work, and is based in Bangkok. She has previously worked as a senior policy advisor on law enforcement and drugs, and as a lawyer, for the Australian Government. Gloria has a Masters in Public Policy, and undergraduate degrees in Law and Asian Studies (Chinese).

Drug policy advocacy in Southeast Asia: navigating a region of extremes

Gloria Lai, Ann Fordham


Southeast Asia is home to the world’s most punitive policies targeting people who use drugs. Criminalisation and administrative sanctions for the consumption and possession of drugs for personal use, forced urine testing, corporal punishment, compulsory registration, compulsory detention (sometimes involving torture and forced labour), and the death penalty are prevalent amongst the countries forming the regional bloc known as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It is in this context that the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) is supporting local advocacy for evidence-based drug policies that are grounded in principles of public health, harm reduction and human rights.

Key arguments

This presentation will provide participants with a quick overview of the situation across ASEAN. In particular:

- Thailand and Myanmar have some of the region’s highest rates of drug use and HIV prevalence amongst people who inject drugs. Thailand also has the region’s largest prison population, with over 70% imprisoned for drug offences. However legal reforms have been proposed in both countries to reduce punishment for drug use.

- On the other hand, Indonesia has returned to launching crackdowns on people who use drugs - while the Philippines, on a new scale of extremes, has sanctioned the murder of thousands of people suspected of involvement in drugs despite international condemnation.

- In 2016 ASEAN will adopt a new regional work plan on drugs, and has continued to reject civil society engagement.

The Way Forward

Concrete recommendations for Asian drug policies, at national and regional levels, will be put forward – focusing on: the decriminalisation of drug use and measures for diverting people who use drugs from punitive measures; scaling up harm reduction programmes; promoting civil society inclusion in evidence-based drug policy dialogues; and ensuring that the Philippines model is not seen in any positive light by neighbouring countries.