A new anti-drug policy will be announced in Thailand tomorrow which many fear will mark a reinstatement 2003's brutal war on drugs.
In February 2003, the Thai government, under then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, launched a violent and murderous ‘war on drugs’ aimed at the ‘suppression’ of drug trafficking and the ‘prevention’ of drug use. In the first three months of the campaign there were 2,275 extrajudicial killings,[i] a figure that reached well over 2,500 by the end of the ‘war’. In 2007, it was found that more than half of those killed had no connection whatsoever to drugs.[ii] Added to the thousands who lost their lives, thousands more were forced into coercive drug treatment. HIV prevention efforts were also seriously compromised with fear of arrest and mistreatment driving people who inject drugs underground and away from essential harm reduction services.[iii]
In 2005, the UN Human Rights Committee raised serious concerns about the “extraordinarily large number of killings” that took place during the ‘war’ and recommended that thorough and independent investigations be undertaken.[iv] The then UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Asma Jahangir, sent an urgent communication to the Thai government in 2003.[v] In its response, Thailand said that every unnatural death would be thoroughly investigated in accordance with the law.[vi] To date, none of the perpetrators have been brought to justice.
In recent weeks, the government of Thailand has publicly stated its intention to again pursue its war on drugs. On 20 February, according to Human Rights Watch representatives in Thailand, Interior Minister, Chalerm Yubamrung, told parliament that
“… For drug dealers if they do not want to die, they had better quit staying on that road... drugs suppression in my time as Interior Minister will follow the approach of [former Prime Minister] Thaksin. If that will lead to 3,000-4,000 deaths of those who break the law, then so be it. That has to be done ... For those of you from the opposition party, I will say you care more about human rights than drug problems in Thailand”.
At the 51st session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, held in Vienna in March 2008, Thai government representatives assured fellow government delegations, UN representatives and NGOs that human rights would be respected in any anti-drug campaign. However, at the same session Thailand was among those attempting to block a resolution recognising the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and calling for all drug control to be in full conflormity with human rights.
According to the Bangkok Post, a new anti-drug campaign will be launched on April 2nd. Given the events of 2003 and the impunity for perpetrators since then, there is growing concern in Thailand and internationally at the Thai government’s plans. Human Rights Watch has already noted with concern the murders of alleged drug traffickers across Thailand since the announcement of the Interior Minister — two in Chiang Mai, one in Kalasin, and one in Krabi.
Drug law enforcement must accord with international human rights law, as stated repeatedly by the General Assembly and this year by the International Narcotics Control Board. A reinstatement of the brutal war on drugs would be a considerable retrograde step in Thailand’s progress on human rights, including its accession to the UN Convention Against Torture in October 2007.
On Human Rights Day 2007, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Thailand reaffirmed at the Human Rights Council its “unwavering commitment to the cause of human rights”.[vii] There can be no exceptions to this commitment.
The Thai government must comply with its human rights obligations before many thousands more are killed. It must announce publicly that it will not proceed with a second war on drugs.
Any new 'anti-drug campaign' must consist of integrated and comprehensive drug strategies, including harm reduction services, that comply fully with all human rights and fundamental freedoms.
A new 'war on drugs' cannot be tolerated. The international community and national and international NGOs will be watching closely.
2008 report on the possible revival of the 'war on drugs'
Report on the 2003 'war on drugs' (In English but some Thai statements are not translated)
Report on the 2007 investigation into the 2003 killings:
[i] See ‘Not Enough Graves: The War on Drugs, HIV/AIDS, and Violations of Human Rights’ A Human Rights Watch Report, Vol 16 No 8 (C), June 2004, p.9 (Not Enough Graves)
[ii] ‘Most of those killed in war on drug not involved in drug (sic),’ The Nation, November 27, 2007 (online at http://nationmultimedia.com/breakingnews/read.php?newsid=30057578). In August 2007, the military-installed government of General Surayud Chalanont appointed a special committee to investigate the extrajudicial killings during the 2003 war on drugs. The committee’s report – which has never been made public – said that of 2,819 people killed between February and April 2003, more than 1400 were unrelated to drug dealing or had no apparent reason for their killings. Human Rights Watch, ‘Thailand: Prosecute Anti-Drugs Police Identified in Abuses,’ February 7, 2008 (online at http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/02/07/thaila17993.htm); ‘Southeast Asia: Most Killed in Thailand's 2003 Drug War Not Involved With Drugs, Panel Finds’, Drug War Chronicle, Issue 512, March 2007, http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/512/thailand_drug_killings_half_not_involved_panel_finds (Date of last access: 5 March 2008).
[iii] ‘Not Enough Graves’, pp.36-40
[iv] Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee: Thailand, UN Doc. No. CCPR/CO/84/THA, 8 July 2005, paras 10 & 11
[v] Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions: Summary of cases transmitted to governments and replies received UN Doc. No. E/CN.4/2004/7/Add.1, 24 March 2004, paras 557-558
[vi] ibid., para 558
[vii] Webcast available at http://www.un.org/webcast/humanrightsday/archive.html (Date of last access: 5 March 2008)