Thaksin's 'war on drugs' a crime against humanity

Thaksin's 'war on drugs' a crime against humanity

In its search to bridge the gap between a "people's coup" and the Western constitutional narrative of "a change in government only through the ballot box", the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) has emphasised the so-called Thaksin regime's arrogance of power, its illegitimacy, by highlighting two very recent events: The Lower House's passing of the amnesty bill at 4am on Nov 1, and the government's and Pheu Thai Party's rejection of the Constitution Court's ruling that parliament's amendment of the constitution was illegal _ a clear case of contempt.

However, there exists a more fundamental illegitimacy which, long ago, should have disqualified the possibility of Yingluck Shinawatra's last election campaign slogan: "Thaksin thinks, Pheu Thai acts". I'm referring of course to Thaksin's clear culpability in the matter of his 2003 "war on drugs", and following on, his responsibility for igniting the ethnic-religious conflict in the deep South. For more than 10 years now Thaksin has evaded responsibility for these _ the most heinous of his crimes.

Lest we forget: His "war on drugs" saw 2,873 Thais dead in a matter of three months, from February to April, 2003. The victims included whole families, women, children and old people. In many cases, bodies were left out in the open in an almost ritualistic public display, to be photographed by an all too eager local press.

An investigative report by the UK's Sunday Times, in 2008, said: "Police and local authorities drew up so-called blacklists of drug suspects which were submitted to the Ministry of Interior." The Times obtained an official letter sent by the ministry to provincial governors, explaining the three ways to remove names from the lists: "Arrest, extrajudicial killing or loss of life

[death for various reasons]. Drug dealers are traitors to the nation. We have to get rid of them. Don't give them mercy."

In its report the newspaper noted that barely three weeks after the campaign began, "the Ministry of Interior announced that 993 people were dead, all but 16 of them victims of 'gangland killings' ... you were told that everyone was a drug dealer shot by another drug dealer." In the first few months after the "war", international reaction, most strikingly by the UN, took Thaksin by surprise. When secretary-general Kofi Anan nominated a rapporteur to investigate these gross human rights abuses, Thaksin's angry response was "the UN is not my father".

Other international human rights organisations denounced the "war" as one of the worst cases of human rights abuse in recent times. Eventually, the UN Commission on Human Rights asked the Thai government to explain some 23 cases of abuse from mass killings to deaths and disappearances of rights defenders, like lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit.

When the Independent Committee on the Casualties of the 2003 War on Drugs established by the Surayud Chulanont government published its report in 2008, it concluded that 1,372 of the people killed had no drug related records.

More importantly, the chair of the commission concluded that all 2,873 killings should be considered crimes against humanity. Since the day the report was published, not a single case has been pursued.

This culture of impunity is our national shame. Thaksin's "war on drugs" was broadly welcomed by many Thais, at the time, largely because of the terrible impact of the ya ba (methamphetamine) scourge that was sweeping through the country. The media almost gleefully reported the weekly and monthly killing tallies, as provinces sought to outdo each other.

The ethnic-religious conflict ignited by Thaksin's policies in the three deep South provinces has even more tragic and longer term consequences. Since 2004, 5,700 people have died, with 1,000 imprisoned, awaiting trial for treason, which carries the death penalty. In 2002 these three provinces had a mere three cases of violent crimes, in 2005 the number jumped to 1,500 cases.

The Tak Bai incident paints a dark stain across our national conscience. But our culture of immunity remains intact. Our leaders, our police, our armed forces continue to commit terrible acts of injustice with impunity.

The Sunday Times article said: "Lawyers have suggested that Thaksin's drug war might amount to a crime against humanity under Article Seven of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court [ICC], set up in 1992."

Thaksin finds this funny. "I've done nothing wrong!" he laughs. "I just give the policy."

Human rights commissioner Wasant Panich thinks otherwise. "Those who devised the policy are primarily responsible for the deaths," he says. Mr Wasant believes that only the threat of an ICC trial will ensure this kind of incident never happens. Thailand signed the Rome Statute in 2000 but, under Thaksin, didn't ratify it.

I am conscious of another more recent tragic event Thaksin's supporters will want to mention, namely the deaths surrounding the events of April-May, 2010. But there is a big difference between those events and Thaksin's earlier rampages.

Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban, then prime minister and deputy prime minister respectively, have been charged with murder.

They have acknowledged these charges, indicated their willingness to stand trial and accept the court's verdict, whatever that may be.

This is called "integrity", in the highest order, for accepting responsibility for one's actions.

Will the same ever be said about Thaksin? Until we deconstruct this culture of impunity, Thailand's political development will remain trapped in the shadows of despair.


Kraisak Choonhavan is former senator and MP.

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