Pubdate: Sun, 26 Dec 2010
Source: Bangkok Post (Thailand)
Copyright: The Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd. 2010


When the government recently announced its intention to embark on a
new "war on drugs", it was answered by a loud chorus from many
corners of society that there must not be a repeat of the 2003
campaign launched by Thaksin Shinawatra. That war on drugs has become
notorious internationally for the more than 2,500 extrajudicial
killings of suspected drug dealers and a total disregard for the rule
of law.

The present government has taken pains to assure the public that there
will be no replay of that dark chapter in Thailand's history. Deputy
Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban pledged: "This government will
follow the law strictly in drug suppression operations."

Sureeprapha Traives, secretary-general of the Office of the Narcotics
Control Board, said the new campaign would not set targets for the
arrest of drug dealers and users or the seizure of drugs. This is an
important point, since it is believed that Thaksin's emphasis on
numbers led some police to act without good information and then take
the law into their own hands to prevent the truth from ever being known.

The remarks from people at the top of the new drug offensive are
encouraging, but constant monitoring of the situation by the press and
human rights lawyers is needed, and so is a new emphasis on
rehabilitation rather than punishment.

Last week the initial skirmishes of the campaign yielded more than
1,000 suspects, rounded up in Bangkok and Pathum Thani. There do not
appear to have been any extrajudicial measures taken in the
large-scale police action.

However, it is not known if the rule of law is being strictly upheld.
According to the law, police need either court-approved search
warrants or probable cause to search people or premises for drugs.

Drug use has been a constant in nearly every society throughout
history and it probably is not possible to stamp it out entirely.
Arrest and detention are necessary weapons in the fight against drugs,
but in order for society to claim meaningful victories we must move
beyond the rule of law. It should be remembered that in most cases
even drug dealers are deserving of compassion and another chance.

Even people who take a very hard line on drugs must have felt pity as
they read about the young Thai woman who was arrested as she went
through customs at the Bali airport last Monday. She was promised
20,000 baht to swallow a number of plastic wraps containing 1,200
ecstasy pills and deliver them to a dealer in Bali.

She was a drug trafficker, but she was a small fish. A big player
would never have taken such a chance.

The young woman alerted suspicion because of her panicky demeanour, in
obvious physical discomfort and probably having just read the airport
warning sign that says smuggling any amount of drugs into Indonesia is
punishable by death. Life imprisonment is also a possibility for her.

That's a very heavy price for a 24-year-old woman to pay for a
decision she must bitterly regret. It is also a heavy price for her
family. Hopefully the Indonesian courts will show mercy and the woman
will be released after a much shorter time. It's a safe bet she would
never again try to smuggle drugs into the country.

In Thailand, too, the severest of penalties have often been used for
relatively minor players. The architects of the new war on drugs say
they are going after the big dealers and suppliers, which is as it
should be. Judging from a media photo of one group of suspects
apprehended last week, however, they are not all kingpins.

Arrest and detention act as deterrents, but the best and most lasting
deterrent for those already in the drug merry-go-round is
rehabilitation. In Thailand this mostly means spending time in a boot
camp-like environment. The exercise and discipline may work wonders in
the short term, but after they get out most addicts need something
more to stay off drugs.

Government hospitals and health institutions should promote
rehabilitation schemes modelled on 12-step programmes in which
recovering alcoholics and drug addicts essentially help each other
through adherence to a set of principles.

These programmes have a remarkably high success rate.

The best justification for taking down drug dealers is to protect
young people from the misery and loss of potential that drugs often

It is important to remember that young people who become drug users
and even small-time dealers also need protecting, and another chance. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake