Tag Archives: war on drugs

Thailand’s “unsubstantiated” police abuses

red faces

Thailand’s representatives to the United Nations still cling to the outdated idea that if they turn up at a big get-together and make nice comments about how they cherish human rights, then everyone will think things are fine in the land of smiles.

Not surprisingly, they are unhappy when other people tell a different story. So last March, when the Asian Legal Resource Centre addressed the U.N. Human Rights Council concerning Thailand, they weren’t at all pleased.

The Hong Kong-based group told the council that the police are the top abusers of human rights in Thailand, for which they enjoy impunity. The center did not make this statement frivolously. It has for years worked closely with people in the country on dozens of cases that speak to this fact, and it is aware of and has documented hundreds more. Many cases it cannot publicize because to do so would put lives at risk.

Notwithstanding, the government representative, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, claimed that the center’s remarks were “unsubstantiated.” Although his defense of his country’s record was not in itself surprising, the vehemence of his response was remarkable given the piles of evidence to the contrary which groups have accumulated and presented to international bodies over the last decade.

This week the center had a chance to rebut his claim. Continue reading

Nargis can’t be exaggerated

Among the many responses to the unconscionable blockading of humanitarian assistance to victims of the cyclone that swept through Burma on May 10, perhaps the strangest, if not the most offensive, have been claims that journalists, diplomats and aid workers have exaggerated the death toll.

These sorts of charges invariably come up when large numbers of people are killed, disappeared or displaced. They have their origins sometimes in misunderstanding of what really goes on during crises of this sort, sometimes in enmity towards human rights or humanitarian goals. In any case, that they have come up again in the wretched aftermath of Cyclone Nargis is particularly odd.

Take an article that David Rieff wrote for the Los Angeles Times (Save us from the rescuers, May 18). For Rieff, exaggerated reports are all about numbers. And not just high numbers for that matter, but pretty much any numbers. If the numbers jump up suddenly, he reasons, they’re suspect. But even if they don’t, they’re still suspect, because those who make them up are prone to hyperbole and have vested interests.

What Rieff omits is that those ultimately responsible for the making of numbers, those who are most prone to hyperbole and those with the biggest vested interests are not the relief agencies against whom he rails or their proponents but the national authorities who obstruct the making of accurate tallies with which to obtain a better picture of what needs to be done. Continue reading

A casualty of “war”

A lot of talk in Thailand these days is about the prospects for a new “war on drugs,” following on from the state-sponsored murders of people supposedly buying and selling amphetamines in 2003.

Although only a few killings have so far been reported in the weeks following the current prime minister’s and interior minister’s announcements that the war would resume, their enthusiasm for its methods does not seem to have been dampened by its manifest lack of success.

There is persistent argument about the numbers of persons killed and circumstances under which they died last time around. As there were few criminal inquiries and the scale of earlier killings was far beyond the capacity of human rights groups and the media to document fully, it is difficult to speak with certainty about what happened nationwide.

Instead, a better way to understand the mechanics of the “war” is to recall specific cases. In the last week or so a newspaper in Bangkok has been doing just this, publishing accounts of the dead and their relatives, such as that of Somjit Kayandee, who was shot in front of her family after visiting the local police station, and that of six northern men killed together in a pickup truck on their way home from an anti-drug meeting.

Another story published is that of Saman Thongdee, in 2003 a 47-year-old living with his partner of over twenty years, Charuayporn, and their two children in the big northwestern town of Tak.

Seven years earlier, Saman had been accused of dealing in drugs while working as a schoolteacher. He was transferred to an office job and had been investigated but let off. He had kept working in the new post.

But at dusk on April 9 of that year, a black sedan pulled up outside Saman’s house. At least two of its occupants shot him dead with pistols before driving away. Continue reading

A dirty history

intha-500.jpg

(ประวัติศาสตร์สกปรกของไทย)

The new prime minister of Thailand has outraged many by refusing to admit that an infamous massacre ever occurred. In two separate interviews Samak Sundaravej claimed that only one person died on Oct. 6, 1976, when police and paramilitaries stormed Thammasat University, killing at least 46 and forcing thousands into hiding. He denied that he provoked the violence along with other rightists, saying that it is “a dirty history.”

He’s right about that. But there’s a lot more to this dirty history than a single day of bloodshed or the marginal role that the prime minister may have played in it. Violence on the scale of Oct. 6 does not erupt unexpectedly. It is the finale to a thousand other lesser events. It is the day-to-day writ large.

In a doctoral thesis submitted to Cornell University last year, Tyrell Haberkorn follows one of the trails of repeated, silent incidents that culminated in the mayhem of 1976: the unsolved murders of dozens of farmers’ leaders in the north of Thailand. Continue reading

Strange fruit in Kalasin

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(ผลไม้ประหลาดในกาฬสินธุ์)

Officers of the Kalasin District Police Station in northeastern Thailand are alleged to have abducted and murdered dozens of people in the last few years. The actual number could exceed 100; many more bodies have been found, but were not properly examined and documented before being cremated.

Among the victims, Kietisak Thitboonkrong and Krischadol Pancha disappeared from the police station within days of each other in July 2004, shortly after the official close of the first “war on drugs” declared by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Kietisak was 17, Krischadol, 15. Both had been accused of robbery and brought to the police station. Both were granted bail and the grandmother of each had come to the station to collect the boy but was told that he had been released and to go and wait.

Neither ever came home. Kietisak was found in a neighboring province, tortured to death and strung up in a bad attempt at a simulated suicide. Krischadol was not found. Continue reading

Selective justice for drug-war killers

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ความยุติธรรมที่ถูกเลือกสำหรับมือสังหารในสงครามยาเสพติด

A high-level committee in Thailand is gearing up to recommend that people who enabled the killing of thousands in 2004 and thereafter be held criminally liable. It has in its sights former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and other parties to his “war on drugs.”

The committee is waiting for a new government to be formed in 2008 before presenting its findings.

At a glance, the committee seems like a good idea. Lots of people were killed thanks to government policies at the time [like the victim shown above], yet no one has been prosecuted. The anti-drugs war has quickly become another yawning hole in the country’s modern history. Any efforts to do something about it should be welcomed.

But the question that it begs is why did the thousands of murders, and a government policy to encourage them, not rouse Thailand’s existing multifarious investigating agencies? Why must this committee, with no actual authority, do their work for them?

Continue reading