Pubdate: Fri, 05 Dec 2003
Source: Drug War Chronicle (US Web)
Author: Phillip S. Smith, Editor


In a birthday present to the king, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin
Shinawatra Wednesday declared Thailand "drug free" -- or pretty darn
close to it, anyway. The long-awaited announcement comes on the heels
of a year-long anti-drug campaign that has seen more than 2,700 people
killed, tens of thousands arrested, and hundreds of thousands more
sentenced to "drug treatment camps." (Oddly enough, Thai security
forces reported seizing only $95,000 in drug-related assets over the
course of the year.) While Thaksin, the US government, and a
significant section of Thai public opinion are heralding the
"victory," human rights organizations and other observers are decrying
the abuses that accompanied the campaign.

The "final push" for the anti-drug campaign came last week, as some
3,000 Thai security forces conducted massive raids on poor Bangkok
neighborhoods, searching some 600 structures and arresting 121 people.
In the meantime, the government announced it was sending more army
troops to the Burmese border and beginning electronic surveillance
there in an effort to suppress smuggling.

In the late 1990s and into this decade, Thailand had become a leading
consumer of methamphetamines manufactured in Burma by the United Wa
States Army and imported in pill form by the ton. Use and abuse of "ya
ba," or "crazy medicine," spread across class and geographic lines
until it supplanted the use of opium and heroin as the nation's
identified number-one drug problem. In February, Thaksin kicked off
his campaign to make the country "drug free." Now it's official.

"We are now in a position to declare that drugs, which formerly were a
big danger to our nation, can no longer hurt us," Thaksin told a
Bangkok news conference as he declared victory. But even as he claimed
success, he acknowledged that he could not eradicate drugs. "No
country will be able to completely stamp out drugs from its society,"
Thaksin added. Still, he said, "Many Thai people now have their sons
and daughters back."

Although not the families of the more than 2,700 people killed during
the campaign. Human rights groups, both in Thailand and
internationally, blame Thai government death squads for the majority
of those killings, but Thaksin and his officials have denied it,
claiming instead that the victims died in internecine gang wars.

"During the anti-drugs campaign launched by the government from 1
February to 30 April 2003, the Thai Government appeared to condone
killings of drug suspects by unknown assailants as one method of
fighting the "drugs war," concluded Amnesty International in a report
released in October. "According to official statements, 2,245 drug
suspects were killed during the three month campaign. However, the
government has failed to initiate independent, impartial, effective
and prompt investigations into these killings, and as a result those
found responsible have not been known to have been brought to justice."

One example of what Amnesty was talking about is the case of Somjit
Kuanyuyen, who learned on February 20 she was on a police blacklist of
drug users and reported to her local police station. After signing a
paper and being reassured by police she was safe, she returned home.
"Four unidentified men in a one-ton pickup truck with darkened windows
drove up to her house and shot her seven times in front of her
seven-year-old granddaughter and her seven-months pregnant daughter,"
Amnesty reported.

Human Rights Watch has also expressed deep concerns about human rights
in the Thai drug war. Most recently, in October the watchdog group
complained that the government's policies endangered a newly-announced
AIDS reduction grant. "The Thai government has consistently refused to
support such services," wrote Human Rights Watch. "Worse, it has
engaged in a brutal crackdown against people suspected of smuggling
and dealing drugs, resulting in the unexplained killings of several
thousand drug dealers since February. Research by Human Rights Watch
shows that anti-drug crackdowns can increase drug users' chances of
HIV infection. As with other populations at high risk of infection,
such as sex workers and men who have sex with men, health experts fear
that police brutality can push drug users into hiding and drive them
from HIV prevention services."

"Violent crackdowns won't solve Thailand's drug problem, but they will
fuel its AIDS epidemic," said Joanne Csete, director of the HIV/AIDS
and Human Rights program at Human Rights Watch. "Preventing HIV
requires working respectfully with drug users, not trampling on their
human rights."

But that is just what the Thai government has been doing, National
Human Rights Commissioner Jaran Ditthapichai, who received death
threats earlier this year after denouncing the killings of suspected
drug traders, told DRCNet. The targeted population is so frightened
that it does not even complain much, he said. "We have only received a
small number of complaints from the relatives of those killed," said
Jaran. "It is because the families are frightened by the brutal
killings and afraid of the police. They do not dare complain to us or
other organizations. They think they may be in danger," he said.

The commission, a governmental body, had interviewed victims and
relatives, as well as police and drug suppression officers and issued
its report to the government, Jaran said. "Now we are waiting for a

And while the rate of killing has declined in this last phase of
Thailand's drug war, said Jaran, the human rights situation remains
miserable. "The situation is worse now," he explained. "People's
rights not only to life, but their freedom of assembly and their right
to a fair trial are at stake," he said.

The US Drug Enforcement Administration official in charge in Thailand
wasn't worried about human rights. Last week, as he witnessed a
bonfire of seized ya-ba pills, William Snipes, Southeast Asia regional
DEA director told reporters so far so good, but cautioned that victory
could be fleeting. "Whether that's a lasting effect, we'll have to
wait and see. Temporarily, we look at it as successful," he said.

"It has been successful, if you measure success by the price and
availability of methamphetamine," said Allen Hicken of the University
of Michigan's Southeast Asian Studies Center. "The price has
skyrocketed, if you can find the stuff at all," he told DRCNet.

"Now it is very difficult to find speed tablets where they used to be
on sale," agreed Nualnoi Treerat, professor of political economy at
Bangkok's Clulalongkorn University. "Those who have some may have
already buried or destroyed them out of fear [of violent measures by
the state]. If any are still available, the prices have risen [almost
ten-fold]." But can the policy be called a success? "Perhaps, yes, if
we don't think human rights is a problem," she said in an interview
with the Nation (Bangkok). "To tackle the drugs problem is supposedly
to increase human security. But if the means are not just, they could
create an atmosphere of fear, and such fear of violence could in
return become a threat to human security," she said.

Despite the human rights abuses, Thaksin and his government have broad
popular support for the crackdown, according to Thai pollsters. "It is
true," said commissioner Jaran. "Almost all Thai people support the
violent policy because for the past ten years the drug was everywhere,
millions of addicts, and even social groups like teachers and monks
were involved with the drug trade. Thai people see drug traffickers as
bad men, the enemy of the nation, and they should be killed," Jaran
explained. "The human rights activists and the commission were
criticized as people who do not love the nation and who indirectly
help the gangsters."

"The Thais aren't any different from the Americans in this regard,"
said Hicken. "This is a law and order campaign. People generally
regret the killings, but after all, they say, it is the drug dealers
who are being killed. "And Thaksin is winning points: Drugs have been
a scourge, and here is a politician who has done something about it."

Visit to read drug war
complaints to the Thai National Human Rights Commission.

to read Amnesty International's October report.

Visit to read the
Human Rights Watch HIV/human rights report. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake