Last week, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra gave King Bumipol Adunyadet a birthday present of a "drug-free" Thailand, an illusory achievement accomplished in part by the death squad-style murders of as many as 2,700 suspected drug dealers or users (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/314/sortofdrugfree.shtml). But the Thai anti-drug pogrom has come under increasing criticism from national and international human rights groups, as well as the United Nations, and the king used his birthday speech to the nation to call for the government to account for the killings. The Thai government has agreed, but critics complain that the government cannot and should not adequately investigate itself.
While the king praised Thaksin's efforts to rid the country of drugs, in his address from Chitralada Palace on December 4, he also said the exact number of people killed in the drug war should be tallied and the circumstances of their deaths clarified. "It is said the prime minister's war on drugs killed about 2,500 people," noted the monarch. "That is not correct. Most of them were killed by their accomplices and others by the government crackdown," he added, following the official line. "If the matter is not clarified, many people will blame the prime minister. The findings should be made available to the public and to the international community," said Bumipol, the world's longest reigning monarch.
The king's speech came before an audience that included Thaksin, cabinet members and other high-ranking officials. It was broadcast live on radio across the nation, and taped for TV broadcasts later in the day. He used the occasion to chide government officials, including Thaksin, for failing to take responsibility for the deaths. "If this continues, in the end, the people will blame the King," he complained. "This would breach the constitution, which stipulates that the King should not have to take responsibility for anything. In this country, who is going to shoulder the responsibility? In the end, the prime minister must take responsibility."
Still, the king seemed to imply that 2,500 deaths was a small price to pay to suppress drug use. "If the prime minister had not taken this action, there would be more than 2,500 deaths, including addicts, and that number would grow every year," he said.
The Thaksin government responded by announcing it will create two panels -- one from the Royal Thai Police, one from the Narcotics Control Board -- to look at each killing. And it will announce its finding within a week, the government said. But some police officials didn't need even that much time. Pol Lt-Gen Nawin Singhapalin, chief of the General Staff Office and chairman of one of the panels, told the Nation newspaper that his group had already looked at more than a thousand killings and found only 45 extra-judicial executions.
Neither the composition of the panels nor the speed with which they are expected to come to conclusions is creating much confidence among critics of the campaign. For an investigation to be credible, it must be independent, the National Human Rights Commission told the Nation. The Campaign for Popular Democracy, an opposition group, agreed. "I can't see justice being done if police are assigned to do it alone," said Campaign leader Pipop Thongchai. "We have been asking the police for information, but they always cite 'state secrets' to shut us down. We need the involvement of the Justice Ministry, the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Human Rights Commission," he said.
Come back next week for the results of the anticipated one-week whitewash.