Introduction: Extrajudicial killings of alleged drug dealers in Thailand

The extrajudicial killing of some 2000 people accused of involvement in the drug trade in Thailand between February and April of this year is the subject of the special report in this edition of article 2. For the most part, these persons were shot dead by “unidentified gunmen” after reporting to police stations undertaking a campaign to eradicate drug dealers in Thailand within a three-month period. The campaign was begun via a raft of orders issued by the Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, and was buoyed on by comments made throughout this period by the Prime Minster and his subordinates to the effect that the lives of alleged drug dealers are worthless.

Sections 33 and 75 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand contain provisions corresponding to article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to the effect that all persons are equal before the law and are presumed innocent till proven guilty. However, in implementing this campaign the Thai Prime Minister created a special category of persons, alleged drug dealers, for whom these provisions needed no longer apply, for whom any pretence of ordinary criminal procedure could be abandoned. In so doing, the killings may amount to a crime against humanity under article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. This begs the question as to whether Thailand has in fact declined to join the Court on the grounds that the King would be subject to its jurisdiction, as was argued publicly, or rather because its Prime Minister was afraid that he might one day find himself in the dock.

This report opens with translations of the Prime Minister’s orders that precipitated the three months of murder. A chronology of events by Meryam Dabhoiwala follows, then some case studies of killings that occurred during the campaign. Nick Cheesman writes about aspects of the campaign in more detail, and a comment on its implications for human rights and the rule of law in Thailand by Basil Fernando follows. The report concludes with a statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission from early in the campaign, and finally, some reflections on how to address the consequences of this crisis. The editorial board also wishes to acknowledge Kishori Kedlaya for undertaking most of the field research that formed the basis for these articles.

The report is dedicated to the 2000-plus victims of the ‘war on drugs’, whoever they were and without regard to whatever accusations may have been leveled against them. It reaffirms their right to have received due process in accordance with their country’s Constitution and its obligations under international law.