The Philippines has scaled up its war on drugs with devastating consequences. President Rodrigo Duterte’s tough talk and anti-drug platform has led to a staggering number of vigilante killings and the mass incarceration of people associated with drug use and its trade. But we’ve seen this before. 12 years ago, Thailand launched a bloody and ultimately futile war on drugs.
Both Thailand and the Philippines have prohibitive drug policies that demand severe punishment, with little provision for evidence-based public health interventions. Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore are the only three Southeast Asian countries that have rejected harm reduction policies.
Former Thai prime minister and former police officer Thaksin Shinawatra spearheaded Thailand’s 2003 war on drugs using inflammatory phrases such as ‘shoot to kill’ and ‘eye for an eye’ to legitimise and incite violence. In three months police killed more than 2,275 people with impunity and 320,000 people surrendered themselves to the police. There were reports of human rights abuses ranging from harassment and sexual violence to torture. And throughout the campaign, public opinion polls showed widespread support — up to 90 per cent — for Thaksin’s efforts.
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