Pubdate: Mon, 19 Jan 2015
Source: Bangkok Post (Thailand)
Copyright: The Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd. 2015
Page: 8


A couple of major developments have taken place against the backdrop
of the battle against drugs. The two cases seem to illustrate the two
extremes of this long fight. In Thailand, suit-clad officials from
four countries agreed politely to set up an information-sharing
headquarters. No one is in charge. The specific goals are not just
unstated, but appear not to exist. In Indonesia, at the other end of
the pendulum, prison authorities yesterday brought six convicted drug
dealers - five of them foreigners - to the killing stakes for
execution by firing squad.

The Indonesia action drew predictable protests. In a span of more than
30 years, Southeast Asian countries have executed several hundred
people convicted of serious drug offences. Only a tiny handful have
been actual traffickers. Most of those hanged, shot or drugged have
been "mules", the lowest ranking of all drug sellers.

The stark truth is clear. Executing low-level drug smugglers and
peddlers has not changed anything about the trade. It has not affected
the manufacture of drugs, the amount peddled, the attempts to carry it
across borders or, in the end, the wholesale or petty peddling of
drugs on the streets. Signs at immigration points warning of the
possible use of the death penalty for drug offences, and brochures
handed out by airlines saying the same, probably have scared some
would-be smugglers. But not all of them.

The truth about the death penalty is that it still is threatened,
still is sentenced by the courts and still is carried out - although
not as often as in the past. Indonesia's decision last week to send
five foreigners and a local to the executioner's stake is a sign of
desperation. Unable to halt drug smuggling, unable to consider a new,
better way to fight dangerous drugs, Indonesia merely vents its
failure on mules and drug abusers.

The latest faltering step is the four-nation committee, established in
Chiang Mai last Thursday. Officials from Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and
China call it - of course - a hub against drug trafficking. The target
is supposed to be drugs smuggled along and across the Mekong River,
which is a long way from Chiang Mai. There is no one in permanent
charge of this Safe Mekong Coordination Centre. The head of the office
will be different each year, rotated by nationality. And to get
everything off to a rather unfortunate start, the Myanmar delegate
Myint Thein was allowed to make an unchallenged statement that boiled
down to blaming ethnic minorities and countries that produce precursor
chemicals for the methamphetamine epidemic.

Drug mules, drug peddlers and drug smugglers are violent criminals.
They deserve strong punishment. But the government must know that
locking them up is barely noticed by drug merchants. The real enemies
of Thai society are inside protected areas of Myanmar. They also are
inside our institutions, corrupting government and security forces
while directing the smuggling and money laundering on which the drug
trade depends.

If governments continue to take the same actions against drug
smugglers, including executions, there will be no progress in
suppressing the trade. Similarly, if governments respond with more
committees like the one formed last week - more "task forces" without
strong leadership - there can be no progress in defending society
against trafficking. By employing tired old tactics, government is
actually throwing up its hands. Without a viable plan to catch and
shut down big traffickers, this criminal enterprise will not be stopped.
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MAP posted-by: Matt