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Thailand’s 'war on drugs'

International Harm Reduction Association and Human Rights Watch briefing paper

"Countering the world drug problem...requires an integrated and balanced approach and must be carried out in full conformity with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and other provisions of international law and in particular, with full respect for…all human rights and fundamental freedoms." United Nations General Assembly, 2007  
"Due respect for universal human rights…and the rule of law is important for effective implementation of the international drug control conventions. Non-respect for them…can lead to discriminatory disproportionate responses to drug offending and can undermine the conventions."  
International Narcotics Control Board, 2008  


What You Can Do

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In February 2003, the Thai government, under then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, launched a 'war on drugs', purportedly aimed at the suppression of drug trafficking and the prevention of drug use. In fact, a major outcome of this policy was arbitrary killings. In the first three months of the campaign there were some 2800 extrajudicial killings. In 2007, an official investigation found that more than half of those killed had no connection whatsoever to drugs.1 Apart from the thousands who lost their lives, thousands more were forced into coercive "treatment" for drug addiction.2  
HIV prevention and treatment efforts were also seriously compromised with fear of arrest and mistreatment driving people who inject drugs away from essential harm reduction services.3  
In 2005, the UN Human Rights Committee raised serious concerns about the "extraordinarily large number of killings" that took place during the ‘war’ and recommended that thorough and independent investigations be undertaken.4 Then UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Asma Jahangir, sent an urgent communication to the Thai government in 2003.5 In its response, Thailand said that every unnatural death would be thoroughly investigated in accordance with the law.6 To date, none of the perpetrators of arbitrary killings have been brought to justice.  
In recent weeks, the government of Thailand has publicly threatened the resumption of killings. On 20 February, Interior Minister, Chalerm Yubamrung, told parliament that  
"… For drug dealers if they do not want to die, they had better quit staying on that road... drugs suppression in my time as Interior Minister will follow the approach of [former Prime Minister] Thaksin. If that will lead to 3,000-4,000 deaths of those who break the law, then so be it. That has to be done ... For those of you from the opposition party, I will say you care more about human rights than drug problems in Thailand."  
Since this statement by the Interior Minister, Human Rights Watch is aware of at least four killings of alleged drug traffickers across Thailand — two in Chiang Mai, one in Kalasin, and one in Krabi.  
Given the events of 2003 and the impunity for perpetrators since then, the Thai government’s plans raise immediate and urgent concerns.  
Drug law enforcement must accord with international human rights law, as stated repeatedly by the General Assembly and this year by the International Narcotics Control Board. A resumption of arbitrary killings would be a considerably retrograde step in Thailand's recent progress on human rights, such as its accession to the UN Convention Against Torture in October 2007.  
On Human Rights Day 2007, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Thailand reaffirmed at the UN Human Rights Council its "unwavering commitment to the cause of human rights".7 There can be no exceptions to this commitment.  
The Thai government must be held to its human rights obligations and in particular its duty to prevent extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions.  
  • All CND member states must unambiguously denounce any resumption of policies in Thailand that violate human rights.
  • The Thai government must announce publicly that it will not proceed with a renewal of killings and other human rights violations in the name of a "war on drugs."
  • The Thai government must immediately and fully investigate the killings and other human rights abuses that took place in the context of the 2003 war on drugs and bring the perpetrators of human rights violations to justice.
  • The Thai government must adopt integrated and comprehensive drug strategies that comply fully with all human rights and fundamental freedoms.
  • All countries with close ties to Thailand should ensure that drug control measures adopted in Thailand are in full conformity with the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations, including full respect for all human rights.
‘Most of those killed in war on drug not involved in drug (sic),’ The Nation, November 27, 2007 (online at In August 2007, the military-installed government of General Surayud Chalanont appointed a special committee to investigate the extrajudicial killings during the 2003 war on drugs. The committee’s report – which has never been made public – said that of 2,819 people killed between February and April 2003, more than 1400 were unrelated to drug dealing or had no apparent reason for their killings. Human Rights Watch, ‘Thailand: Prosecute Anti-Drugs Police Identified in Abuses,’ February 7, 2008 (online at  
Human Rights Watch, Not Enough Graves: The War on drugs, HIV/AIDS, and Violations of Human Rights, vol. 16, no. 8(c), June 2004,, pp. 32-33; Tassanai Vongchak et al., “The influence of Thailand’s 2003 ‘war on drugs’ policy on self-reported drug use among injection drug users in Chiang Mai, Thailand,” International Journal of Drug Policy, vol. 16, 2005, p. 2.  
‘Not Enough Graves’, pp. 36-40.  
Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee: Thailand, UN Doc. No. CCPR/CO/84/THA, 8 July 2005, paras 10 & 11.  
Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions: Summary of cases transmitted to governments and replies received UN Doc. No. E/CN.4/2004/7/Add.1, 24 March 2004, paras 557-558.  
[6] ibid., para 558.  
Webcast available online at (Accessed 5 March 2008).  


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