Addressing extrajudicial killings of alleged drug dealers in Thailand

After a profound crisis hits the law enforcement and administrative organs of a country, it can be difficult to see a way forward. With the extrajudicial killing of over 2000 people accused of dealing in drugs this year, Thailand has been affected by such a crisis. Coming after a period that saw a growing commitment to human rights and democratization, many will be struggling to understand what has happened. Certain agencies and persons must now take it upon themselves to lead their society out of this mess.

The National Human Rights Commission for one must address this crisis as if a matter of its own survival. It must persist in investigating all complaints of killings and other rights violations arising from the ¡®war on drugs¡¯, and make public its findings in each and every case. It must consistently and deliberately lobby through the media and every other available means for a full accounting of these killings. It should also set a target to complete and publicize a thorough report on the killings and related abuses, and present its findings to the National Assembly. Among matters this report should consider is the adequate compensating of all victims and their families. To do all this it must be able to fulfill its mandate, which means that the Prime Minister and other government officials must cease launching attacks against the Commission and its members. They must also respect its powers and respond to its enquiries in keeping with section 32 of the National Human Rights Commission Act of 1999. Furthermore, the Commission must be provided with adequate resources, as stipulated in section 75 of the Constitution.

The Ministry of Justice also must vigorously pursue all cases of murder, and enforce the law equally and without delay. It must respond to all complaints and in particular ensure that in every possible case full and proper autopsies and forensic examinations are conducted. Where bodies or evidence have been destroyed or ¡®lost¡¯, the police officers responsible must be held to account. The Ministry should also consider providing better incentives to doctors to undertake autopsies and site investigations, and establish the means to ensure that they are not subjected to police intimidation.

Internationally, the United Nations and other groups too must take a much more assertive role in dealing with these events. In particular, the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on extrajudicial killings should approach the Government of Thailand and raise these murders as a subject of special concern. The Special Rapporteur must urge the government to grant an international team access to investigate the killings thoroughly. The United Nations must also respond to attacks on its credibility, and that of its representatives, by the Prime Minister and other officials in the Government of Thailand. Furthermore, it should provide material assistance to agencies genuinely committed to investigating these killings, and likewise suspend partnerships with those that are failing to cooperate. Similarly, international donor agencies should also as a matter of policy raise their concerns regarding these events, and tie the provision of assistance for programmes in Thailand to evidence of progress in investigations.

All of this requires the leadership and participation of concerned Thai citizens. Lawyers, doctors, human rights advocates, victims and their relatives must be prepared to come together and voice their concerns over what has happened. They must exchange ideas on practical, locally devised solutions to the crisis. They must be prepared to act in the face of government threats, and unchallenged assumptions that the vast majority of Thai citizens have been swayed by the propaganda that accompanied this campaign. Indeed, without alternative voices making themselves heard, the public will continue to be held captive to this propaganda and subjected to a climate of fear and intimidation from which only more bloodshed, deceit and animosity can be expected to come.