Why has the rule of law been made a victim of Thailand’s anti-drug campaign?

Asian Human Rights Commission

Since February, when the government of Thailand opened the way for alleged drug traffickers to be murdered with impunity, over 2000 persons have been killed. This relentless carnage poses an enormous threat. Unless quickly averted, the consequences of mass extrajudicial killings will be far deeper and more insidious than the damage caused by the trade and use of drugs in Thailand.

Behind the worst atrocities in history lies the mentality that there exists a class of persons who can be eradicated simply because they are deemed socially undesirable- in this case, alleged drug dealers. Irrespective of what a person is said to have done, if they and their kind are pursued without regard for due process, a deep social crisis is sure to follow.

The Asian Human Rights Commission has consistently reported on cases in Asia where tacit state approval of one human rights violation has led to an intractable cycle of abuse. Extrajudicial killings have led to mass disappearances and torture. Censorship has led to political opponents and human rights defenders being targeted as alleged criminals. Undermining of the judiciary and independent bodies established to monitor abuses has eventually rendered them irrelevant.

By endorsing murder, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has set his country on a path with dire consequences. Some are already being felt. The Prime Minister has himself attacked the National Human Rights Commission simply for attempting to fulfill its mandate. One of the commissioners has been warned that he may face impeachment, and has received death threats. The Defence Minister has implied that drug dealers are paying members of the media to criticize the government, opening the door for sanctions against journalists.

Why did the rule of law need to be undermined to rid Thailand of drugs? The Prime Minister remains answerable both to this question and the consequences of his actions. He must now introduce a number of quick remedial measures to stay the disaster he has precipitated.

The Prime Minister must be unequivocal that offences in Thailand will be dealt with according to established judicial norms. The killings must be stopped, and those already facing charges must be permitted fair trials. The Prime Minister must also guarantee the authority of the National Human Rights Commission, and the safety of its members.

Finally, the Prime Minister must permit a thorough, independent, international enquiry into the atrocities to date, under United Nations auspices. He has remarked that he has nothing to fear from the United Nations and international scrutiny. If this is so then he should be more than willing to oblige. He has said that he can explain everything. And indeed he must do so.

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