Thailand’s war on drugs will undermine national AIDS fight and human rights: police given licence to kill drug users

Global civil society has reacted with alarm and outrage at the Thai government’s revival of a war on drugs. The country’s last effort to eradicate drugs, implemented in 2003 under former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, included extra-judicial killings, ‘blacklisting’ of suspected drug users and dealers, and forced drug ‘treatment’ in military-style facilities. This resulted was in the murder of almost 3,000 people, 1,400 of whom had no connection to drugs. The government has failed to identify or punish any of the perpetrators of these crimes. The campaign caused irrevocable damage to people’s reputation, property and lives.

“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 re-launch such a disastrous government policy.” 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.

Thai AIDS activists want to highlight the important role that UNAIDS can play in advocating to governments to provide lifesaving prevention and targeted treatment services to highly vulnerable groups, including migrant workers, undocumented citizens and people who use drugs. Without addressing the specific needs and challenges faced by these groups, the goal of universal access can not be achieved.

“The Thai war on drugs will have disastrous consequences for the fight against AIDS in Thailand – and it will not 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, but not among people who use drugs or other highly vulnerable groups including men who have sex with men (MSM). 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 the design and implementation of 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, 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.”

During the 22nd UNAIDS’ Programme Coordinating Board (PCB) meeting, civil society representatives from different organizations of HIV and TB affected communities held a major demonstration against the Thai new drug control policy.

This brief update and a collection ofpPhotographs about this demonstration are available at

Source: Press Release, Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group (TTAG).

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