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THAILAND: Extrajudicial killing, impunity

February 14, 2003

URGENT ACTION URGENT ACTION URGENT ACTION URGENT ACTION URGENT ACTION <br />
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ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAM <br />
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14 February 2003 <br />
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UA-08-2003: \&quot;War on drugs\&quot; death toll rising <br />
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THAILAND: Extrajudicial killing, impunity <br />
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SUMMARY <br />
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Since February 1, hundreds of alleged drug dealers have been killed in Thailand's latest \&quot;war on drugs\&quot;, launched by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. While addressing the drug problem in Thailand is a serious matter, the current government is in effect encouraging the police to sidestep judicial procedure and simply execute alleged offenders. This also makes it increasingly easy for the police and other authorities simply to do away with anyone they don't like; indeed, some reports indicate that police have planted drugs and then detained or killed alleged 'suspects'. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has requested that a special representative be allowed to visit Thailand to investigate, but has been refused by the Thai authorities. Readers are urged to write to the Prime Minister protesting his \&quot;war\&quot;, which is part of an ongoing and marked attack on human rights and basic civil liberties in Thailand under his government. <br />
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DETAILS <br />
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On 1 February 2003 the Thai government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra launched a major crackdown on the drug trade in Thailand, set to last for three months. While a serious effort must be made to address the spiraling drug trade in Thailand, the manner in which the latest campaign has been undertaken is highly problematic. Thousands of people have been arrested and hundreds have been killed under uncertain circumstances. Evidence also suggests that the police have planted evidence in order to carry out arrests and killings. <br />
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The Prime Minister is reported to have expressed his satisfaction with the result of the first 10 days of the campaign, during which an estimated 100 people were killed. However, the exact number of casualties is difficult to establish. The Bangkok Post has put the death toll from February 1 to 9 at 183, with 87 of these being drug related. Other media reports cite 144 deaths. NGO sources suggest far higher numbers. But police have accepted responsibility for only about 20 deaths, citing self-defense on their part. Major-General Pongsaphat Pongcharoen alleges that the other deaths were all the result of dealers \&quot;killing each other to avoid the risk of betrayal should their accomplices turn themselves in\&quot;. Prime Minister Thaksin has also defended police, saying, \&quot;Do not put the safety of drug dealers above that of police. If the police do not shoot when they fight, they will die.\&quot; Thailand's Interior Minister, Wan Muhammad Nor Matha has even endorsed the practice of disappearances, by stating that drug dealers should \&quot;be put behind bars or even vanish without a trace… Who cares? They are destroying our country.\&quot; <br />
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Apart from those killed, at least 7000 people have been arrested. An additional 70,000 are reported to have turned themselves in, 50,000 of these being drug users afraid of getting hurt or killed either by the police or by their drug dealers. <br />
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Police and local officials have been given incentives to carry out as many arrests and killings as possible, including financial bonuses. Many have also been threatened with transfers if they fail to achieve the campaign's objectives. <br />
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The actions that the police have been taking in Thailand are in direct violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand has signed. Article 6(1) of the ICCPR states, \&quot;Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.\&quot; Article 9 further states, \&quot;(1) Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention… (3) Anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release.\&quot; <br />
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The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has requested that a special envoy visit Thailand to assess the situation, however the government has refused the visit by saying that the appropriate officials were currently unavailable for meetings. The National Human Rights Commission, for its part, will hold talks with the Ministry of Justice and legal experts on February 28. <br />
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SUGGESTED ACTION <br />
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Please write to the Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, to express your outrage at the recent extrajudicial killings, disappearances and mass arrests in Thailand. A suggested letter follows: <br />
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Dear Prime Minister <br />
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Re: Human rights abuses arising out of anti-drug campaign <br />
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I am greatly concerned by the reports of widening human rights abuses arising out of your ongoing campaign against drug dealers. The manner with which alleged suspects are being arrested and killed appears to fall outside of any fair legal procedure. Your government also seems to be creating a climate within which it is easy for the police to arrest and execute people with impunity, regardless of whether or not they are genuinely guilty of any offence. <br />
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Just procedure for arrest, trial and punishment is a cornerstone of the rule of law and democracy. When a government tacitly permits extrajudicial killing, disappearances and mass detention it rapidly leads to the erosion of the very foundation upon which all human rights and democratic values stand. Hence, in light of recent events in Thailand, democracy in your country now faces a very grave threat indeed. <br />
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I urge you to immediately reassess the manner in which the current campaign against drugs is being undertaken. I fully understand and support your concern about the negative effects of the drug trade on your society, but believe that the methods you are undertaking to eradicate it will be ineffective in the long term and will only lead to a decline in the rule of law in Thailand. I also urge you to arrange for a visit by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders at the nearest possible date and request that you communicate regularly and seriously with the National Human Rights Commission regarding this ongoing crisis. <br />
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Yours sincerely <br />
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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO: <br />
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Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra <br />
Prime Minister <br />
Government house, <br />
Pitsanulok Road, Dusit District, <br />
Bangkok 10300 <br />
THAILAND <br />
Fax: +66 2 282 8631 <br />
Email: govspkman@mozart.inet.co.th <br />
SALUTATION: Dear Prime Minister <br />
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PLEASE SEND COPIES TO: <br />
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1. Professor Saneh Chamrik <br />
Chairman <br />
National Human Rights Commission <br />
Contact <br />
c/o Mr. Vasan Phanich <br />
PO Box 400 <br />
Rongmuang Post Office <br />
Bangkok 10330 <br />
THAILAND <br />
Telephone: +66 2 219 2940 <br />
Facsimile: +66 2 219 2940 <br />
E-mail: commission@nhrc.or.th <br />
SALUTATION: Dear Mr Chairman <br />
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2. General Sant Sarutanonda <br />
Chief of Police <br />
Royal Thai Police <br />
Rama I, Patumwan <br />
Bangkok 10330 <br />
THAILAND <br />
Fax: 662 251-5956 <br />
SALUTATION: Dear General <br />
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3. Mr Pongthep Thepkanjana <br />
Minister of Justice <br />
Office of the Ministry of Justice <br />
Ministry of Justice Building 22nd Floor <br />
Jangwatana Road <br />
Parkket <br />
Nonthaburi 11120 <br />
THAILAND <br />
Fax: 662 502-6699 <br />
SALUTATION: Dear Minister <br />
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4. Ms. Hina Jilani <br />
Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders <br />
c/o OHCHR-UNOG, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland <br />
Fax: 41 22 917 9006 <br />
webadmin.hchr@unog.ch <br />
PLEASE MARK: ATT - SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR HIMA JILANI <br />
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5. Ms. Asma Jahangir <br />
Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions <br />
c/o OHCHR-UNOG, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland <br />
Fax: 41 22 917 9006 <br />
webadmin.hchr@unog.ch <br />
PLEASE MARK: ATT - SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ASMA JAHANGIR <br />

Document Type :
Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID :
UA-08-2003
Countries :
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Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

A need for dialogue

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

Practical action

The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

"The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.