Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Thailand's latest crackdown raises concerns over human rights violations

The Thai government announced last week that they are launching a new crackdown on drugs . According to the Bangkok Post;

Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat has ordered a new crackdown on drug peddlers…. This has raised concerns, particularly on the civil rights front.’

Wongsawat: Thailand's new drug warrior

In fact the Thai authorities appear to issue statements about ‘new’ crackdowns with some regularity – the last one, due to last 6 months, started in February. Announcing such crackdowns is in many respects the sort of populist posturing seen the world over (not least in the UK); if the policy outcomes from your drug policy are all terrible, just announce some tough sounding new stuff to show you are doing something (evidence of effectiveness not required). Thai newspaper The Nation notes;

‘Normally, a move like this is perfect for frustrated Thai politicians looking to win quick political points in times of desperation.’

In 2003 then Prime Minister Thaksin Sinawatra instituted his now notorious ‘war on drugs’ that resulted in over 2500 extra-judicial killings - the reason that Thai drug crackdown announcements send a chill through human rights observers. The new Prime Minister (and brother-in-law of Thaksin), Somchai Wongsawat, has defended the ex-premier’s part in it saying,

'It was not extra-judicial killing by police. They were killed by drugs dealers.'

This follows Thaksin’s line whilst in power that the deaths were simply,

‘…the result of bad guys killing bad guys.’

An official investigation in 2007 found that over half of those killed had no connection whatsoever so drugs - that's over 1000 individuals murdered. A devastating report on the atrocities was published in 2004: 'Not Enough Graves: Thailand’s War on Drugs, HIV/AIDS, and Violations of Human Rights'. As recently as February 2008 Human Rights Watch reported that a Thai police captain and seven other members of the Border Patrol Police (BPP) had been arrested on suspicion of human rights abuses and corruption after 61 people filed complaints ranging from abduction to torture by the BPP.

In 2005 the UN Human Rights Committee raised concerns over the number of executions and since then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has called for increased protection for the health and human rights of people living with HIV, sex workers, men who have sex with men, and young people who inject drugs. Even the director of the UNODC has said that,

“It stands to reason, then, that drug control, and the implementation of the drug Conventions, must proceed with due regard to health and human rights.”

PM Somchai has tried to placate concerned observers by claiming that,

‘Implementing extra-judicial killings to solve the drugs problem is absolutely banned.'

However despite this statement and the reaffirmation of Thailand’s commitment to the UN Human Rights declaration on the 60th anniversary of its signing, there is concern that the crackdown will again lead to more human rights abuses.

In related news, the British government has revoked the visa of Thaksin Shinawatra who has been sentenced (in absentia) by a Thai court to three years in prison for corruption. The fact that he instigated and approved a program of 2500 largely indiscriminate and entirely illegal extra-judical civilian murders seemed not the bother UK immigration officials (or for that matter Man City Football club) but corruption is obviously a bigger issue for Britain’s government and its much lauded ‘ethical foreign policy’.

While Thaksin and his wife search for somewhere to take him in - a number of Asian countries including the Phillippines have refused him entry – Thai authorities have vowed to extradite him in order to serve his punishment. It is unlikely he will ever face justice for his murderous drug war.


Anonymous said...

Good post Emily. We're soon to publish an article from front line harm reduction workers in Thailand that the new "war on drugs" isn't quote the same as the 'killing fields' last time round. But with these fresh annoucements, you never know. Ross, New Zealand Drug Foundation. (I'll provide the link to our new article soon)

Tiger said...

One of the biggest export of the United States to Thailand is the US war on drugs. However, without understanding the cultural background, the war on drugs has a particularly pernicious effect in Thailand.

When the previous regime initially implemented the war on drugs several years ago, it involved the extra-constitutional killing of over 2,000 individuals. By extra-constitutional killing, it means without due process, without trial, without chance for defense. In other words, the police act as judge, jury, and execution.

Thaksin's response that the accused drug dealers that were rubbed out was the result of bad guys killing bad guys does not cut it. Currently Thaksin is under great criticism for economic corruption. However, the real crimes under his administration were human rights violations that occurred both during the war on drugs and in other areas. For an interesting article discussing the presence of fugitives and the organizations that track them in Thailand, please see Fugitives in Thailand

Anonymous said...

Here's the link as promised above: