Human Rights News

Timeline of Thailand’s “War on Drugs”

February 2001

    Prime Minister of Thailand Thaksin Shinawatra assumes office. He declares the suppression of narcotic drugs one of his “top priorities,” pledging to enforce drug trafficking laws strictly and remove barriers to drug treatment and rehabilitation.

January 14, 2003
    Thaksin announces that a “war on drugs” will be waged on drug dealers, commencing the following February 1. In a speech announcing the campaign, the Prime Minister borrows a quote from a former police chief known for having orchestrated political assassinations in the 1950s: “There is nothing under the sun which the Thai police cannot do,” he says. “Because drug traders are ruthless to our children, so being ruthless back to them is not a bad thing. . . . It may be necessary to have casualties. . . . If there are deaths among traders, it’s normal.”
January 28, 2003
    Thaksin issues Prime Minister’s Order 29/B.E. 2546 (2003), calling for the absolute suppression of drug trafficking by means “ranging from soft to harsh including the most absolutely severe charges subject to the situation.” He instructs police and local officials that persons charged with drug offenses should be considered “security threats.”
January 31, 2003
    The evening before the “war on drugs” begins, Boonchuay Unthong and Yupin Unthong are shot and killed as they return home with their son, Jirasak, eight years old, from a local fair in Ban Rai, Damnoen Saduak district, Ratchaburi. Boonchuay had just been released after 18 months in prison on a drug offense. Witnesses describe seeing a man on the back of a motorcycle, wearing a ski mask, shoot Yupin, who was riding on the back of the family motorcycle. Jirasak hides behind a fence and watches as the gunmen walk up to Boonchuay and execute him with a shot to the head. It is subsequently discovered that Yupin and Boonchuay had been placed on a government “blacklist.”
February 1, 2003
    The “war on drugs” officially begins. Four people are killed. By February 8, the death toll stands at 87.
February 16, 2003
    The Ministry of the Interior announces that 596 people have been shot dead since February 1, eight of them by police in self-defense. The deaths of alleged drug dealers, both those killed by police and those killed by others, are included in a February 17 report of the Ministry of the Interior informing the government about the progress of the campaign. The government actively publicizes the deaths on state-controlled television and radio as well as in newspapers, claiming that drug dealers are killing their peers to prevent them from leaking information to authorities.
February 19, 2003
    The Bangkok Post reports that the head of Thailand’s Forensic Sciences Institute, Dr. Porthip Rojanasuna, is suspicious that Royal Thai Police are not seeking the Institute’s help in differentiating so-called gangland killings from extrajudicial executions, as they did before the “war on drugs.”
February 23, 2003
    Nine-year-old Chakraphan Srisa-ard is shot as police fire at a car carrying him and his mother. Police later claim that a third party fired the fatal shots.
February 24, 2003
    The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Asma Jahangir, expresses “deep concern at reports of more than 100 deaths in Thailand in connection with a crackdown on the drug trade.” Prime Minister Thaksin retorts, “Do not worry about this. The U.N. is not my father. We as a U.N. member must follow international regulations. Do not ask too much. There is no problem. They can come and investigate.”
February 26, 2003
    A 16-month-old baby, “Ice,” is shot and killed in her mother’s arms by an unknown gunman in Sa Dao District, Songkhla. The mother is fatally shot as well. The killings follow the fatal shooting of the mother’s older brother, who was alleged to be involved in drug dealing. Police Lieutenant Phakdi Preechachon, the officer in charge of the investigation, reports that police assumed the mother’s and infant’s killing were gang-related because of Raiwan’s brother’s involvement in the drug trade. The killer is not found.
February 26, 2003
    The Interior Ministry bans the release of statistics on drug-related deaths. More figures are later released. On March 2, 2003, police place the death toll at 1,035, including 31 drug suspects shot by officers in self-defense.
May 2003
    Prime Minister Thaksin declares “victory” in the war on drugs and announces a second phase that will last until December. The Royal Thai Police announce that 2,275 people have been killed since February 1, of whom 51 were shot by police in self-defense.
August 2003
    Thaksin announces that Thai security forces will “shoot to kill” when they encounter Burmese drug traffickers on Thai soil. Most methamphetamine tablets are smuggled into Thailand from neighboring Burma and, to a lesser extent, Laos.
October 2003
    Thailand’s foreign minister informs the U.S. State Department that 2,593 homicide cases occurred in the country since the previous February, roughly double the normal level of about 400 homicides per month.
December 2, 2003
    Thaksin again declares “victory” in the war on drugs and presents cash awards to agencies and officials who had taken part in the campaign. He claims that while drugs have not disappeared from the country, “[w]e are now in a position to declare that drugs, which formerly were a big danger to our nation, can no longer hurt us.” He announces a third, 10-month phase of the drug war intended to “maintain the strong communities and the strength of the people for the sustainability in overcoming the drug problem in every area throughout the country.”
December 15, 2003
    The Royal Thai Police report 1,329 drug-related homicides (out of 1,176 separate incidents) since February 2003, of which 72 (in 58 incidents) were been killed by police.
February 2004
    The U.S. State Department reports that Thailand’s human rights record has “worsened with regard to extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests.” The report states that “[t]here was a significiant increase in killings of criminal suspects” in 2003 and that press reports indicated that “more than 2,000 alleged drug suspects were killed during confrontations with police during a three-month war on drugs from February to April.”
February 27, 2004
    Thaksin calls the United States an “annoying friend” for its human rights report and orders a new round of drug suppression, resulting in the arrest of 839 people in Bangkok in one day.