By Kristy Tridhavee
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Asia
BANGKOK, Thailand – Thailand’s Prime Minster Samak Sundaravej vowed to relaunch the country’s war on drugs despite its past connections to more than 2,500 extrajudicial killings. Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej stated, “We will pursue a suppression campaign rigorously. There will be consequences [to drug use].” The Prime Minister said the government would not be deterred by allegations that extrajudicial killings were being committed by the police. Interior Minster Chalerm Yubamrung, a former police captain, supported the Prime Minister when he said that he would adopt Thaksin’s approach in his anti-drug campaign even if “thousands of people have to die. When we implement a policy that may bring 3,000 to 4,000 bodies, we will do it.”
Soon after Thailand’s announcement, human rights groups warned that the country may be heading down a similar path as the anti-drug campaign launched by ousted Prime Minster Thaksin Shinawatra in 2003. During the original campaign, there were allegations that police were forced to create lists of suspects to be targeted, and police officers included innocent persons on them. Human rights groups also alleged that nearly 2,500 extrajudicial killing occurred during the first “war on drugs.” The Thai government, however, blames most of the deaths on inter-gang warfare.
The Thai government responded to claims of innocent deaths and extrajudicial killings. Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej denied that innocent persons had died. He asked reporters, “If they were innocent, why were they killed?” Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej also denied that numerous persons were killed by police. He said, “I have no doubt that 2,500 people were killed. It could even be 5,000, but what can the government do when they are killing each other? If police killed someone, then we would call that an extra-judicial killing. There are only 59 such cases, and the police are standing trial for those deaths.”
The Thai government recently arrested anti-drug police for their actions during the original war on drugs. In late January, the government arrested Captain Nat Chonnithiwanit and seven other members of the 41st Border Patrol Police unit for criminal conspiracy, armed robbery, forced intrusion, threatening others with weapons, detaining others, and abducting minors under the age of 15. Thus far, 61 complaints have been filed with the Justice Ministry, alleging that the 41st Border Patrol Police have abducted and tortured them to extract confessions. Victims alleged that they have been electrocuted, suffocated with plastic bags, and severely beaten.
Despite the arrests and the complaints, Human Rights Watch [HRW] questions the Thailand government’s commitment to prosecuting police officers accused of extrajudicial killings. The Royal Police has praised Captain Nat Chonnithiwanit for several years for his service as a role model. Also, Police General Seriphisut Temiyavej, national police commissioner-general, has recently threatened to take legal action against anyone who makes false complaints against police officers. Police General Seriphisut Temiyavej also stated that he does not believe that extrajudicial killings are more than 50 or 60.
Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW, responded to the recent statements by the Police General, “Thailand’s national police commissioner-general should be encouraging victims to come forward, not threatening them with legal action. Seriphisut’s threats against victims of police abuse further fuel this vicious cycle of abuses and impunity.”
For more information, please see,
Bangkok Post – PM Prepares to Revive War on Drugs – 22 February 2008
HRW – Thailand: Prosecute Anti-Drug Police Identified in Abuses – 7 February 2008
Reuters – Thai PM Vows Rigorous War on Drugs Despite Outcry – 22 February 2008