Thailand's war on drugs undermine against Aids: activists
Aids and human rights activists are planning to organise demonstrations in front of an international UNAids meeting in Chiang Mai and New York City on Wednesday to call on the government to reconsider its controversial war on drugs, saying it undermined the fight against Aids.
They said Thailand's last effort to eradicate drugs, implemented in 2003 under former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, included extrajudicial killings, 'blacklisting' of suspected drug users and dealers, and forced drug 'treatment' in militarystyle facilities.
The campaign ended in nearly 3,000 lives, about half of whom had no connection to drugs, the groups said in a press statement released Tuesday.
"The 2003 war on drugs is notorious for the crimes against humanity perpetrated by Thai authorities," said Karyn Kaplan, Director of Policy and Development for Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group (TTAG).
"We are horrified that Thailand would relaunch such a disastrous government policy," Kaplan said.
In addition to gross human rights violations, the 2003 drug war seriously disrupted drug users' access to essential services, such as HIV treatment, prevention information, counseling and equipment, by driving drug users even further underground, the statement said.
"While the government has said that they will respect human rights, they have proven that they can not be trusted without creating a detailed plan of exactly how they will protect drug users." said Amanda Lugg, Health GAP Board Member.
Kriengkrai Aiemprasert, outreach worker at Ban Mit Sampan Harm Reduction Center in Bangkok, said the drug war will have "disastrous consequences for the fight against AIDS in Thailandand it will not work as a response to drug use in Thai society," said.
"The Thai Prime Minister should end the war on drugs, and promote a response to drug use based on evidence, and human rights."
"An estimated 50 per cent of drug users in Thailand are HIVpositive. HIV incidence and prevalence in Thailand has declined overall, but not among people who use drugs or other highly vulnerable groups including men who have sex with men (MSM)," the statement said.
Paisan Suwannawong, director of the Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group (TTAG) and a former intravenous drug user, said instead of effective response, "the government has pledged to crack down on drugs and told us that we should expect more murders."
"The Prime Minister, Samak Sundaravej himself said killings are 'impossible to avoid' in a drug war. This kind of message is unacceptable and, essentially, a license to kill," Paisan said.
The Nation, Thailand (April 08)
THAI NGOs APPEAL FOR SOLIDARITY
FROM THE INTERNATIONAL ADVOCACY COMMUNITY
ON APRIL 2, 2008, the Prime Minister of Thailand, Samak Sundaravej, announced that the police would have special powers to track down drug users in order to reduce the demand for drugs. This same policy was enacted in 2003. Police and security forces murdered over 2500 Thai citizens in the course of a few months. The police also committed thousands of other well documented human rights violations. Suspected drug users were beaten, tortured and forced to confess to false accusations. Many were repeatedly and systematically denied access to medical care, including HIV medications.
Some government officials and some members of civil society are choosing a wait and see approach. Now is the time to act if we are to prevent the senseless murder of thousands of Thai people living with HIV/AIDS.
Multiple, anecdotal reports of violations, have ALREADY arisen. They include:
- The Thai-Lahu Foundation reports that 7 Lahu injection drug users, that they helped receive ARV treatment, are now afraid to go to the government clinic. Consequently their treatment is now halted.
- An Austrailan broadcast showed police on Khao San Road in Bangkok testing Thais but not western tourists, for drugs.
- A Thai paper reported several people in Krabi province (South) were killed after being questioned by the police about drugs.
- In Chiang Rai, several suspected drug dealers had their assets seized-without a trial to prove their guilt.
- In Chiang Mai, there is an allegation of the torture and illegal detainment of a suspected drug dealer.
- NGOs throughout the country report difficulties of supporting drug users in receiving HIV treatment and drug treatment since this announcement.
"The Thai war on drugs will have disastrous consequences for the fight against AIDS in Thailand. And it won't work as a response to drug use in Thai society," said Kriengkrai Aiemprasert, outreach worker at Ban Mit Sampan Harm Reduction Center in Bangkok. "The Thai Prime Minister should end the war on drugs, and promote a response to drug use based on evidence and human rights."
An estimated 50% of drug users in Thailand are HIV positive. HIV incidence and prevalence in Thailand has declined overall, except among people who use drugs. Experts attribute this to the Thai government’s resistance to comprehensive harm reduction policy and programming, along with their reluctance to include drug users in treatment and prevention programs. "Fighting HIV in Thailand requires evidence-based interventions for people who use drugs," said Paisan Suwannawong, director of the Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group (TTAG) and a former intravenous drug user. "We urgently need an effective response—instead the government has pledged to crack down on drugs and told us that we should expect more murders. The Prime Minister himself said killings are ‘impossible to avoid’ in a drug war. This kind of message is unacceptable and is, essentially, a license to kill.”
Thai NGO’s, including the Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group (TTAG), Thai Network of People Living with HIV (TNP+) and others are making the following demands of the Thai government and are seeking international support to achieve them:
1. Include those Directly Affected in all Decision Making: People who use drugs and civil society must be involved in the response.
2. Stop the Drug War: repressive and compulsory approaches to drug control and prevention do not work, and have not worked
3. Respect Public Health Principles and Measures: the Ministry of Public Health must be at the forefront and coordinate the public health response to drugs, and assume this leadership immediately
4. Provide International Support and Solidarity: The UN must invest in technical and other leadership for Thailand and the SEARO region, for harm reduction.
5. Respect Human and Civil Rights: The Prime Minister and Interior Minister must renounce all deaths and extrajudicial actions taken against Thai citizens. The government must include a plan of how they will respect human rights. Trainings must be given to the police to reduce stigma and to familiarize themselves with public heath and harm reduction policy
6. Provide Universal Access to ALL People in Thailand!: Thailand can not achieve its goal of universal access without implementing harm reduction policies. Also, services must be targeted, specifically, for people who use drugs, sexual minorities, sex workers, people in prison and migrant workers.
Actions Taken So Far:
- In response to this TTAG has planned a demonstration on the opening day of the UNAIDS Programme Board Committee in Chiang Mai on April 23rd, 2008 at 12:30 pm-Chiang Mai Holiday Inn.
- Members of the UNAIDS PCB who represent civil society have written a letter to Peter Piot, the head of UNAIDS. They demanded that he meet with Thai officials and urge for a policy change.
- NYCAHN/VOCAL, a membership organization in NYC for drug users and their allies are holding a solidarity demonstration at the NYC Thai embassy on April 23rd at 12:30 a.m. EST. This rally will be held simultaneously with a protest at the Chiangmai Holiday Inn, Thailand. The theme is “Thai Government on Drug Policy—They are in the Dark!”
- Activists are also planning demonstrations in Washington, DC and Chicago for early May.
Thai activists are officially calling out for International solidarity from harm reduction activists around the world.
- Call your local Royal Thai Consulate: NYC: (212)754-2230; DC: (202)944-3600; Chicago: (312)664-3129
- Call your local Thai tourism board or Thai Airways and tell them that you will not be taking your next vacation to Thailand as long as they continue to violate the human rights of drug users.
- Write about the issue! Submit a comment on the Lonely Planet or other travel guide page so that travelers know about the Thai government’s policy. Post a blog. Write an announcement to all your MySpace friends. Publicize the issue on your Facebook Wall.
- Schedule a teach-in! Link this issue with the struggle for harm reduction services and drug treatment in your community!
For more information about the Thai Drug War, please call:
Jennifer Flynn, Health GAP (English) at +1 (917) 517-5202 or
Paisan Suwannawong, TTAG (Thai and English) at +66-81-824-5434
(in Thailand, 081-824-5434)
Or go to www.hrw.org, www.ttag.info, www.healthgap.org
Press articles can be found at www.bbc.com, the Bangkok Post and the Thailand Nation.
TNP+ (Thai Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS) and
TTAG (Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group)
(list in formation)