THAILAND: Extrajudicial killing, impunity 


Urgent Appeal Case: UA-08-2003
ISSUES: Extrajudicial killings, Impunity,


Since February 1, hundreds of alleged drug dealers have been killed in Thailand’s latest \”war on drugs\”, 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 \”war\”, which is part of an ongoing and marked attack on human rights and basic civil liberties in Thailand under his government.


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.

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 \”killing each other to avoid the risk of betrayal should their accomplices turn themselves in\”. Prime Minister Thaksin has also defended police, saying, \”Do not put the safety of drug dealers above that of police. If the police do not shoot when they fight, they will die.\” Thailand’s Interior Minister, Wan Muhammad Nor Matha has even endorsed the practice of disappearances, by stating that drug dealers should \”be put behind bars or even vanish without a trace… Who cares? They are destroying our country.\”

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.

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.

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, \”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.\” Article 9 further states, \”(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.\”

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.


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:


Dear Prime Minister

Re: Human rights abuses arising out of anti-drug campaign

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.

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.

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.

Yours sincerely


Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra

Prime Minister

Government house,

Pitsanulok Road, Dusit District,

Bangkok 10300


Fax: +66 2 282 8631


SALUTATION: Dear Prime Minister


1. Professor Saneh Chamrik


National Human Rights Commission


c/o Mr. Vasan Phanich

PO Box 400

Rongmuang Post Office

Bangkok 10330


Telephone: +66 2 219 2940

Facsimile: +66 2 219 2940


SALUTATION: Dear Mr Chairman

2. General Sant Sarutanonda

Chief of Police

Royal Thai Police

Rama I, Patumwan

Bangkok 10330


Fax: 662 251-5956

SALUTATION: Dear General

3. Mr Pongthep Thepkanjana

Minister of Justice

Office of the Ministry of Justice

Ministry of Justice Building 22nd Floor

Jangwatana Road


Nonthaburi 11120


Fax: 662 502-6699

SALUTATION: Dear Minister

4. Ms. Hina Jilani

Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders

c/o OHCHR-UNOG, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Fax: 41 22 917 9006


5. Ms. Asma Jahangir

Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

c/o OHCHR-UNOG, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Fax: 41 22 917 9006


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Document Type : Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID : UA-08-2003
Countries : Thailand,
Issues : Extrajudicial killings, Impunity,