UPDATE: See update below:
It is not easy to cover a large topic like the “war on drugs” in a single post so I will confine myself to the alleged number of deaths (2,275) between February-April 16 2003. I have said on numerous occasions that I am not/was not in favour of the “war on drugs” no matter whatever happened. However, if statistics are going to be quoted then surely their needs to be some factual basis for those statistics. Credit for the original source of 2,275 must go to Tom.
For the below articles, ask yourself, do they imply the government killed 2,275 people? Or is it the total number of drug-related homicides? Or is it something altogether different.
The government’s campaign against Thailand’s drug mafia claimed at least 2,275 lives within a few months.
Washington Post in June 2003:
In Thailand, Thaksin began a new round in his campaign against drugs in February and ordered police “to produce results at any cost.” The goal was to “eradicate all drugs in Thailand.” This three-month campaign resulted in 2,275 deaths.
The death toll in Thailand’s controversial war on drugs now stands at 2,275, Thai police said on Wednesday.
Thaksin’s drug war left some 2,275 suspected drug offenders dead in apparent extrajudicial killings over four months in 2003.
The consequences of those words became disturbingly clear early on in the anti-drug drive. During the first three months of that ‘war,’ which began in February that year, over 2,275 people were killed.
…than the government-endorsed ‘war on drugs’ that saw in excess of 2,275 people killed in Thailand during a three-month period in 2003.
The Thai government crackdown began in February 2003 for the official reason of curbing the trade in methamphetamine tablets, locally know as ya baa or “crazy pills.” Within three months, an estimated 2,275 drug suspects were shot dead.
COMMENT: Now, it is “drug suspects” “shot dead”? Unfortunately, not all of the above articles tell you the source of the 2,275 number although some do, like ChannelNewsAsia:
His war on drugs left some 2,275 suspected drug offenders dead in apparent extrajudicial killings between February and May 2003, according to Human Rights Watch.
The Times (UK):
HRW claims that the most disturbing of these came during the notorious “war on drugs” when more than 2,275 people were killed during a three-month period at the beginning of February 2003.
COMMENT: Ok, so it is clear that HRW is the source, but where did they get the 2,275 figure from?
HRW in October 2004:
Between February and May 2003, some 2,275 suspected drug offenders were shot dead in Thailand in apparent extrajudicial executions.
COMMENT: No actual source for the claim that “2,275 suspected drug offenders were shot dead”.
HRW in a long report on the war on drugs
In the first three-month phase of the crackdown that began on February 1, 2003, the Royal Thai Police reported that some 2,275 alleged drug criminals had been killed.14 Most were shot with handguns.
 “Death toll in Thailand’s drug war hits 2,275, say police,” Agence France-Presse,
COMMENT: Argh, we have a source. HRW didn’t diligently try to calculate the figures themselves, they relied on an AFP report.
Unfortunately, I can’t find that specific AFP article online which I can link to (there is another AFP article though below). The relevant paragraph is:
While police are unable to say how many of the killings are drug-related, the national murder tally has been widely used as a proxy figure for the number of deaths resulting from the no-holds-barred battle against traffickers.
According to police figures released in mid-April — and not updated since then following the furore that greeted their release — 2,275 people were killed nationwide from the start of the war.
While it is not known how many were drug-related killings, the toll was widely seen as an indicator of an alarming number of deaths resulting from the no-holds-barred battle and sparked an outcry from human rights groups.
COMMENT: Yes, you read that correctly. Police figures never stated that 2,275 were killed directly by the police or as a total figure in the “war on drugs”. It is simply the total number of homicides for the 2 and a half months. So for HRW’s figure of 2,275 to be correct it would mean (a) that there were non-drug related homicides in Thailand in that period, and (b) all drug-related homicides where extra-judicial killings. The odds of that happening would be astronomical. In which parallel universe would the total homicide rate be seen as the drug-related homicide rate. HRW’s figures are inflated and wrong. The police said that themselves as the BBC reported:
…only 1,329 Thais died over drugs, arguing that the other 1,300 killings had nothing to do with the illegal trade
Police General Sant said that based on the inquiry, 72 people died as a result of extra-judicial killings.
COMMENT: HRW even published this figures in their report:
In October 2003, Thailand’s foreign minister told the U.S. State Department that 2,593 homicide cases had occurred in the country since the previous February, more than double the normal level of about 400 homicides per month.15 On December 15, 2003, after the end of the first phases of the campaign, the Royal Thai Police reported 1,329 drug-related homicides (out of 1,176 separate incidents) since February, of which seventy-two (in fifty-eight incidents) had been killed by police. More than 70,000 people allegedly involved in the drug trade were arrested.
COMMENT: If 70,000 people were arrested, is this not evidence there was not a de facto shoot to kill policy as some have claimed? If the homicide rate doubled from 400-800, the 1,329 drug-related deaths figure starts to be a more accurate number than the 2,275 figure. What about the Thai Police’s statement they were only responsible for 72 deaths? Why have those figures never found their way into all the newspapers? Ok, because it doesn’t paint Thaksin as sufficiently evil enough.
[UPDATE from 2014: From Wikileaks we have the US Embassy estimate “Post estimates the number killed as a result of this policy to be approximately 1,300.]
NOTE: I disagree with the BBC’s use of the word extra-judicial killing it is a translation of วิสามัญฆาตกรรม which actually equates to justifiable homicide. Now, obviously police claims of justifiable homicide/self-defence should be investigated to see if there is any substance to them, but it is not the same as extra-judicial killings which has different connotations.
Finally, AFP who were originally the source of HRW’s 2,275 figure later quote HRW and make the same mistake:
The government’s drugs campaign started in February 2003 with some 2,275 extrajudicial killings in the first three months, according to the US-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW).
COMMENT: Let that be a lesson, don’t quote a source who earlier quoted you. Otherwise, you you will turn like the AFP!