Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Renewal Of Deadly Drugs Campaign Feared As New Thai Government Takes Power

Statements by Thai officials have raised fears of a another bloodbath as that nation's so-called "drug war" is renewed. Under former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, more than 2,500 people – only a fraction of whom were involved in drugs – were killed allegedly by police authorities working from official blacklists.

The Ottawa Citizen reported on February 23, 2008 ("Thailand Promises A Deadly Toll During New 'War On Drugs'") that "The new Thai government is to relaunch the country's "war on drugs" which killed more than 2,500 people allegedly involved in the trade. During a three-month killing spree in 2003 as intense as a full-scale armed conflict, thousands named on police "black lists" were shot dead, allegedly on government orders. Yet the government's narcotics control board concluded that more than half the victims had no involvement in drugs. One couple from northeastern Thailand were shot dead after coming into unexplained wealth and being added to a black list. They were, in fact, lottery winners. The campaign was one of the principal policies of Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister and Mr. Samak's political patron, who now lives in exile and owns Manchester City Football Club. 'My government will decisively implement a policy against drug trafficking. Government officials must implement this policy 24 hours a day, but I will not set a target for how many people should die,' said Samak Sundaravej, the new prime minister. The interior minister, Chalerm Yubamrung, said: 'When we implement a policy that may bring 3,000 to 4,000 bodies, we will do it.'"

A recent article in the Bangkok Post provides some background on the Thai drug war. The Post reported on Jan. 31, 2008 ("A New Government, Another War On Drugs"): "'I never thought the Thaksin government's drugs war was successful. In fact it was a failure because it violated people's rights and never brought any big-time drug dealers to justice,' said Angkhana Neelaphaijit, chairwoman of the Working Group on Justice for Peace. Mrs Angkhana, who travels frequently to the deep South to provide legal counselling for Muslim victims affected by the ongoing insurgency there, found information indicating that a dozen Muslim people disappeared without trace during the war on drugs and that local police never carried out proper investigations. Mrs Angkhana said that when she checked with the police, they said the disappearances were linked to drug trade in the area. (Mrs Angkhana is the widow of Muslim lawyer Somchai, who was abducted by persons unknown on March 12, 2004. Though feared dead, his body has not been found; conjecture has focused mainly on foul play involving the police.)"

According to the Post, "Bowing to mounting public pressure, the Thaksin government later appointed a panel led by former deputy attorney-general Praphan Naikowit to look into these deaths, but it could not find anyone responsible. After the military coup of Sept 19, 2006, the junta-appointed government of Surayud Chulanont set up another committee to look into the issue last August, but that panel also failed to gather enough evidence to prosecute people believed involved with the campaign."

In addition, according to the Post, "Min Pothog, a village headman of Ban Nong Sa-no in Sri Samrong district, Sukhothai province, said dozens of young people in neighbouring villages had been shot dead without evidence during the campaign, and no one had been prosecuted for those killings. The bereaved parents had been left to suffer in silence. Bai Jaranil, a defence volunteer from the same village, said the new government should not think of drug suppression as simply a part of the populist policies it announced to attract people's votes. This was an issue that directly involved people's lives. So it should supervise the planned campaign carefully and ensure fairness and justice for those affected."