KEEP THE KILLING TO A MINIMUM
As many as 2,500 people were killed in the first campaign of the
government's war on drugs, and the country could well see more bloodshed
now that Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has declared a second offensive.
The government's determination to rid Thai society of the evil of drugs
deserves the support of us all. But the high fatality rate in the first
six-month war on drugs last year has seriously marred what should be one of
this government's major achievements in office.
Reports of the widespread abuse of authority by law enforcement officers
sent out to hunt drug gangs were heard everywhere during the first
campaign. Many suspects were allegedly dispatched through extra-judicial
killings by officers of the state claiming to be acting in self-defence.
Others were said to have been killed at the order of druglords to cover
their tracks. None of these claims have been substantiated by investigation.
After much criticism at home and abroad, and concerns raised by His Majesty
the King in his birthday speech in December last year, the government
finally agreed a little over a month ago to look into the cause of each
death. Three investigation teams made up of officers from the Narcotics
Control Board, the Attorney-General's Office and the Justice Ministry will
look into the cause of each killing and report their findings to the
government for release to the public. This should finally resolve the
question of whether those killed were the victims of the arbitrary use of
state power to satisfy the prime minister's wish for results.
Mr Thaksin's promise this week to use "brutal measures" in this second
campaign in sending drug dealers to meet the guardian of Hell obviously
raises new fears of abuses. There is no question that drug traffickers who
refuse to give up their death-dealing practices deserve the severest
punishment under the law. But it does not mean that those in power can take
the law into their own hands in an effort to free the kingdom of drugs.
There are legal principles to ensure justice for all regardless of whether
they are rich or poor, or whether they are good or bad. Criminal suspects
remain innocent until they are proven otherwise in the courts. What kind of
society will we have if we allow these principles to be flouted by those in
power or those who we elected to public office to represent our wishes and
are supposed to protect our interests?
Prime Minister Thaksin helped redu
ce the spread of methamphetamines in his
first campaign against drugs. But the fact he now needs to open a second
drive speaks for itself. The first campaign failed to deter those seduced
by the big money which characterises the drug business. They were not put
off by the prospect of a violent death that the campaign offered.
So, instead of sanctioning the use of "brutal measures" to send drug
dealers to meet the guardian of Hell, perhaps Prime Minister Thaksin should
review his tactics with an eye to possible flaws. The many complaints about
the arbitrary use of state power in dealing with drug suspects obviously
points to one area needing correction. Without proper investigation and
solid evidence, the government will be unable to get to the kingpins who
are at the heart of this often deadly business.
Regrettably, Prime Minister Thaksin, in announcing this new campaign, has
fallen short of addressing what His Majesty the King and a lot of people
were concerned about with the first crusade against drugs. Quite the
contrary, the prime minister has sent a strong signal through his choice of
words that he might tolerate more bloodshed and not give much concern for
Mr Thaksin has a track record of doing things his own way, the critics be
damned. He has shown on many occasions that he has no time for those who do
not accept his will. We can only hope this attitude does not shade his
actions to the point where he allows a repeat of the mistakes that so
blighted his first campaign against drugs.