By Nithin Coca
While most of the world’s attention has been focused on the carnage of the Philippine Drug War, which under President Rodrigo Duterte has resulted in an estimated 13,000 deaths from anti-narcotics operations and extrajudicial killings since June 2016, Duterte’s extreme solution to the country’s drug problem may only be the most conspicuous and controversial in a region with a history of draconian drug laws and anti-drug campaigns.
Media reports and human rights monitors have pointed to a worrying surge in the killing and jailing of suspected drug dealers and users in at least two Southeast Asian nations over the past year.
Jakarta-based non-profit LBH Masyarakat estimates that the number of extrajudicial killings in Indonesia jumped from 17 in 2016 to nearly 100 last year (official figures put it at 79), in response to what President Joko Widodo, echoing Duterte, has declared to be a “narcotics emergency” facing the country. Thousands more have been incarcerated in ever-crowded prisons as a result.
A similar story is taking place in Cambodia, where Prime Minister Hun Sen’s six-month narcotics crackdown following a cross-border request for help by Duterte led to more than 8,000 arbitrary arrests in 2017.
Some observers fear that these increased hardline tactics, coming on the heels of the violent repression in the Philippines, may have been enabled by Duterte’s bloody drug war, creating a more permissive atmosphere for extreme and repressive anti-drug measures within the region.
“The contagion of extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests is indeed extremely concerning,” says Ruth Dreifuss, Chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy. “Such actions undermine the law and the credibility of those who support it and enforce it, and result in non-cohesive societies and weakened communities.”