The Amerian Anthropology Association (AAA) has written to Thai prime-minister Samak Sundaravej, expressing grave concerns about his recent renewal of the war on drugs. Here is a copy of the letter: aaa-letter.pdf. In an email to the AAA human rights list, Sara Davis (the Chair of the AAA Committee of Human Rights) explains some of the background:

In the past, the Thai war on drugs has been accompanied by numerous rights abuses, including thousands of extrajudicial executions… We were approached by Thai human rights groups and asked to show solidarity in their efforts to raise the profile of the problem. We appreciated that Setha Low, the AAA president, and the executive board of AAA took this seriously and expedited the letter.

In addition to sending the letter to the Thai government, we will:

feature the letter on the AAA website
– submit the letter to editors of the Bangkok Post and the Nation, which have extensively covered the drug war issue
– offer to meet with the editorial boards of both papers in Thailand to discuss our concerns …
– offer to accompany local Thai human rights groups working on the issue to government meetings in Bangkok

I support this action and I abhor the so-called war on drugs.

But there is another anthropological challenge to be taken up. And that is to contribute to an understanding of why this violent campaign attracts so much popular support. The brutal reality is that an enormous number of Thai people want precisely this sort of heavy handed response to what is often perceived as a rampant drug problem. Samak is playing the war on drugs card because he knows it is exceptionally popular. And Thaksin’s earlier war on drugs attracted royal endorsement because the king knew that it was a cause dear to the heart of many in Thailand.

I strongly suspect that there is a view in many cities, towns and villages throughout Thailand that intractable criminal activity that threatens the welfare of others is best dealt with by violent means. Understanding the historical, cultural and political origins of this view is a challenge that anthropologists are well placed to take up.