Thailand’s New Campaign Against Illegal Drugs Will Undermine HIV/AIDS Efforts, Advocates Say
Health advocates and nongovernmental organizations recently warned that Thailand's campaign against illegal drugs launched last week will undermine efforts to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, the South China Morning Post reports.
According to the Post, Interior Minister Chalerm Yubamrung was quoted by Thailand's Nation in February as saying it would be natural if around 2,700 people died in the course of the new campaign. Chalerm recently said, "I have never said that I have a policy of extrajudicial killing," adding, "I said drugs are very complicated. If you don't want to die, don't walk down that road." The country in 2003 launched its first "war on drugs" under former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The campaign, which resulted in at least 2,500 deaths in three months, was criticized by human rights groups, which deemed the killings "extrajudicial." Former Interim Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, who took over after Thaksin was removed from office in October 2006, called the killings a "crime against humanity."
Karyn Kaplan, policy director of the Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group, said the 2008 campaign "is dubbed a national security operation, with a complete disdain for human rights," adding, "The interests of public health and HIV prevention will be compromised." A recent UNAIDS report urged Asian countries to fight the impact of drug use by providing harm reduction services, including needle-exchange programs and opiate substitution treatment. The report, which was endorsed by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, said governments should abandon counterproductive "wars on drugs," the Post reports. UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said, "I look to Asian governments to amend outdated laws criminalizing the most vulnerable sections of society [such as injection drug users] and take all the measures needed to ensure they live in dignity."
Ton Smits, head of the Asian Harm Reduction Network, said ensuring easy access to clean needles for IDUs has been effective in combating HIV. However, only a few countries have implemented such programs despite endorsements from the World Health Organization and UNAIDS, Smits said. "It is important for drug enforcement agencies to do some soul searching and to recognize that the early stage of an HIV epidemic comes from drug users or sex workers," Smits said (Fawthrop/Mai, South China Morning Post, 4/9).