Civil society calls on the UN to take action in response to the killing of 130 people suspected of drug dealing by the Bangladeshi police.
BANGKOK, 6 June 2018 – Over 130 people have been killed and more than 13,000 people arrested in Bangladesh since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina launched a nationwide anti-drugs campaign in May 2018.
In a manner reminiscent of the Philippines drug war, Bangladeshi police justified these killings as supposedly happening during ‘gunfights’ with rival gangs or law enforcement officers acting in self-defense during anti-drug operations. The government has also closed down health and harm reduction services for people who use drugs and some clients have disappeared. In addition, the government is now considering legislation to impose the death penalty for drug offences.
Today, 188 NGOs sent an open letter to the two major UN drug control bodies—the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB)—calling on them to take urgent action to prevent further deaths and human rights violations in the name of drug control in Bangladesh, but also in other countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Cambodia.
Evidence worldwide have shown that such a violent and abusive approach has not managed to curb the illicit drug market, but it can be used as a political tool to win political elections and target unwanted opposition.
Anand Chabungbam, coordinator of the Asian Network of People who Use Drugs which co-initiated the open letter with the International Drug Policy Consortium, said: “As human rights abuses in the name of a war on drugs are increasing every day around Asia and are now seemingly the ‘new normal’, it may have given false hope for certain political leaders that they no longer have to account for killing their own poor and vulnerable citizens. We will do all we can to bring perpetrators to justice”.
In a strong statement issued today, the UN Human Rights Commissioner called for a stop to the killing of people suspected of drug offences in Bangladesh as ‘indicative of a total disregard for the rule of law’. He concluded: ‘People do not lose their human rights because they use or sell drugs’.
The leadership of the UNODC and INCB is critical to ensuring that the repressive approaches adopted by Bangladesh and others do not have a snowball effect in the region. NGO signatories to the letter called upon the UNODC and INCB to take the following urgent actions to prevent further killings and abuses:
- Issue a high-level statement to condemn the killings, urge the Government of Bangladesh to suspend its current anti-drug operations until it has set up protocols that are based upon human rights and the rule of law; and advise the Government against instituting the death penalty for drug offences
- Recommend and assist with the implementation of drug policy measures based on evidence, human rights, human security and public health (especially harm reduction, drug treatment and other services for people who use drugs, including in prisons)
- Remain vigilant to other countries showing signs of adopting similar repressive policies, and initiate constructive and inclusive dialogue at an early stage to avoid further human rights violations in the name of drug control.