Bangkok Clear: a campaign of prejudice against the marginalized community

The mega city is a dream come true for those with the wealth to spend and invest, a city filled with temples, mosques and shrines dedicated to almost every known immortal and a launching pad for travel-hungry tourists. It is also home to the homeless, the residents of slums and people using drugs, among many other most-at-risk populations (MARP).

I know, I've been harping on this issue on Twitter, that the city's independent government, called Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), is on a quest to "clean" the streets of undesirables, the vagabonds, the economically oppressed and members of rejected communities.
Bangkok Metropolitan Administration
The campaign, covering the span of this mighty city, is simply called "BANGKOK CLEAR" with that usual swag of publicity, photo-shoot opportunities, high-society lectures, and supposedly intelligent members of organizations that clearly don't believe in harm reduction, much less the human rights aspect of drug users and the urban poor.

The Governor of Bangkok seems confident of clearing the streets and back lanes of what society and his office perceives as unattractive addicts who pollute his city. BMA, along with their legions of social consultants and adoring fans, are clearly ignorant of issues and concerns of MARP, such as the right to medical facilities for those who want to fight the addiction and to living a life free of stigma and prejudice.
Thailand BMA
But that is not going to happen with this self-righteous campaign that seems to criminalize drug users, ostracize their families and loved ones.

Flashy media campaigns, mass-producing souvenirs with corny messages, handing out anti-drug pamphlets to the public, clean-up crew conducting their rounds, and making threats of harsh prosecution will not work based on confrontational programs of the past and in other countries, particularly in southeast Asia. Rehabilitation centers, more like boot camps or harsh detention centers within the region, is dotted with problems especially on their method of "treatment" for drug users, the compulsory detainment of users, and the relapse rate after graduating from the programs. Drug policy within ASEAN is naturally in a mess, with their ambitious goal of creating a "drug-free region" by 2015. 

Interestingly, the minister of justice for Thailand's national government is considering the possibility of legalizing the use of krathom leaves, and he hopes to study the matter with stakeholders, such as the authorities and hopefully with civil society. As a harm reductionist, I welcome any initiative that seeks to build policies or campaigns based on consultative process with MARP, when human rights of individuals are enshrined and respected. I hope that statements from ministers are not half-baked attempts at garnering support or said at the spur of the moment. Its about time authorities take drug policy at a different level, by engaging with MARP in collectively designing, implementing and evaluating harm reduction programs and eventually remove the stigma placed by the arrogance and prejudice of people.


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