THAI DEATH SQUADS TARGET DRUG USERS
By Michael Arnold © 19 March 2003,
Green Left Weekly
On February 1, Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin
Shinawatra significantly upped the stakes in the war on drug users,
resolving to make Thailand "drug free" within three months.
Given the level of drug use and distribution in
Thailand, this will be a massive undertaking. Of the 62 million people
living in Thailand, 5.9% aged 15 or over are reported to be users of
amphetamines. Between 500 million and 700 million amphetamine pills are
imported annually from drug laboratories located in Burma.
Thailand has long been known as the centre of the
"Golden Triangle", the focus of South-East Asian heroin production. While
many of the illicit networks involved in heroin production have now shifted
to the production of methamphetamine, heroin remains a big part of the Thai
Grand government promises to create "drug-free"
cities, provinces or countries are common. What makes the Thai campaign
appallingly unique is the methods being employed by the Thai police force
under the government's orders.
The official strategy calls for the systematic
round-up and imprisonment of all drug users and dealers. The campaign is
being coordinated from the district level, with the prime minister
threatening demotions and disciplinary action against ranking police
officers who do not meet its targets.
Senior police claim that dealers will be given the
chance "to be converted" and addicts will "weaned off their habits".
According to reports, at least 50,000 drug users have turned themselves in
to the police. How the Thai regime will deal with such a demand on detox
services is unclear; it is very likely users will be crammed into prisons,
probably renamed as "hospitals", and subjected to mandatory withdrawal with
little or no medical assistance or supervision.
The reason for the surrender by so many users
becomes clear when the "unofficial" elements of the campaign are examined.
"Drug dealers" are being murdered across Thailand; a BBC report on February
14 stated the death toll was 350 in two weeks -- more than 25 murders a day.
The police have taken responsibility for a small
number of the deaths, claiming that they occurred when the police acted in
"self-defence". The police claim the majority of killings result from inter-
and intra-gang attacks, supposedly sparked by fears that those murdered were
about to inform on drug gang activities to the police.
However, a number of prominent human rights groups
have described the murders as extra-judicial executions. Somchai Homlaor,
secretary general of the Asia Forum human rights group, stated: "The only
sensible conclusion is that the police are sending out death squads."
Amnesty International has also protested against the
killings. Director of Amnesty International's Thailand office Srirak Plipat
said: "The government has implied through its policy in the anti-drug
campaign that the authorities can use extrajudicial means to go after drug
traffickers... The government is taking the campaign very seriously, and
[has conveyed that it] will use violence to pursue it."
Unfortunately, Amnesty is only protesting against
the "excesses" of the government's policy. The organisation has stated that
it does not oppose the drug-war policies of the Thai government, which has
also resulted in the arrest of more than 6900 suspected drug dealers.
"This goes for the public, too. The people support
the drug-control campaign but they are not endorsing the extrajudicial
killings", Srirak Plipat has stated in defence of Amnesty's position.
The systematic removal of liberty for around 60,000
largely disenfranchised Thais is surely a clear abuse of human rights, but
Amnesty sees drug users only as "criminals" -- not bad enough to be shot
willy-nilly, but certainly not worthy of the support due to political
prisoners. If it was any other social minority being rounded-up and dragged
off, human rights groups would undoubtedly be describing the "live-fire"
phase of the Thai government's "war on drugs" by its true description: human
Drug-user activists and advocates of harm reduction
strategies from around the world will converge on Chiang Mai, Thailand, on
April 6-10 for the annual International Conference on Reducing Drug-Related
Harm. The Thai government will no doubt be keen to show off its "successes"
in supply reduction.
Activists have resolved not to sit quietly in plush
motels while Thais are being murdered in the streets outside. Solidarity
actions are also being discussed by those not attending the conference.