Led by the human rights advocacy group Human Rights Watch, more than 50 organizations have called for Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to be stripped of the "International Forgiveness Award" granted in September by an Italian group, the Istituzione Perdonanza Celestiniana. The Italian group granted Thaksin the award in recognition of the Thai government's official position that drug users are "patients, not criminals."
But while Thaksin talks the talk, he doesn't walk the walk. Last year, Thaksin presided over a murderous four-month campaign to suppress drug use in Thailand, resulting in the killings of at least 2,275 drug suspects, according to human rights observers. While official ire was directed at drug traffickers, drug users have been among the victims. They have also reported beatings, arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention at the hands of Royal Thai Police, according to Human Rights Watch and local human rights organizations. Some have been forced to sign false confessions, while others have dropped out of treatment programs or gone into hiding out of fear of arrest of murder.
And last weekend, Thaksin was at it again, promising a new round in the anti-drug campaign that was supposed to make Thailand "drug free" by the end of last year. The next round would feature "brutal measures" against drug traffickers, the prime minister said Sunday. "Drug traffickers and dealers are heartless and wicked. All of them must be sent to meet the guardian of hell, so there will not be any drugs in the country."
"These latest developments mark a new low in Thai drug policy," said Brad Adams, executive director of the Human Rights Watch Asia Division. "Thaksin's approach to drug addiction merits disgust and condemnation, not forgiveness."
Thaksin has consistently resorted to violent rhetoric to stoke the war against drug users and traffickers. Just before last year's orgy of violence, Thaksin said, "Because drug traders are ruthless to our children, so being ruthless back to them is not a bad thing." Wan Muhamad Nor Matha, the interior minister at the time, said of drug traffickers, "They will be put behind bars or even vanish without a trace. Who cares? They are destroying our country." In August 2003, Thaksin ordered a "shoot to kill" policy against people suspected of smuggling methamphetamines into Thailand from neighboring Burma.
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin sounds like a man who needs forgiveness, not a mean to be awarded a prize for forgiving drug users or dealers.
Read the letter of protest to the Istituzione Perdonanza Celestiniana and see the list of signatories at http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2004/10/04/thaila9441.htm online.
For more information on human rights in Thailand, visit http://www.hrw.org/doc?t=asia&c=thaila online.
For more information on HIV/AIDS and human rights, visit http://www.hrw.org/doc/?t=hivaids&document_limit=0,2 online.