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Apr 24, 2008

Thailand: PRIME MINISTER GIVES POLICE LICENSE TO KILL (for immediate release)

Thailand's war on drugs will undermine national AIDS fight and human rights
Thursday, April 24: Demonstrations planned for international UNAIDS meeting in Chiang Mai, Thailand and New York City


Contact: Paisan Suwannawong (Thai and English)
+66-81-824-5434 (in Thailand, 081-824-5434

Jennifer Flynn, Health GAP (English) +1.917.517.5202
Anan Muanmoonchai (Thai only) 081-025-6570

(Bangkok) 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. The result was nearly 3,000 people were murdered, 1,400 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.

Activists in Thailand and other countries have planned a protest against Thailand's drug war during the Chiang Mai meeting of the Programme Coordinating Board (PCB) of UNAIDS. Thailand, whose representative is currently the UNAIDS Board Chair, will host the meeting from April 23rd-25th. Rallies are planned outside the Thai Embassy in New York simultaneous with the Thai activist demonstration in front of the UNAIDS PCB meeting venue in Chiang Mai, Thailand on April 23, 12:30 a.m. EST. Solidarity actions will be held in other cities around the world in early May.

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 cannot 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.”

We demand that the Thai government immediately denounce this policy and commit to implementing effective harm reduction policies and improving humane drug treatment. “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.

RALLY IN CHIANGMAI, THAILAND, April 23rd, 2008, HOLIDAY INN, 318 Chiangmai-Lumphun Road, T.Wat Kate, Au. Muang, Chiangmai 5000 12:30 p.m. local time. Opening day of UNAIDS PCB meeting.

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