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Geopolitics

Thailand's Lessons To Ease Deadly Crackdown In Philippines

A funeral earlier this year for a teenager killed by police in Manila .
A funeral earlier this year for a teenager killed by police in Manila .
Kannikar Petchkaew

BANGKOK — Luzviminda Siapo is telling me about the day her 19-year-old son was killed — that was just seven months ago.

He was dragged from his home by 14 masked men and shot in the head twice. Witnesses say he was ordered to run for his life before being shot. "He just couldn't run, he had club feet," Luzviminda told me.

I met Luzviminda along with The Philippines Human Rights Commissioner, Leah Tanodra-Armamento. The pair were visiting Thailand last month, sharing stories of Filipinos killed in the country's so-called ‘war on drugs."

It's been 16 months since Rodrigo Duterte became President of the Philippines. Since then, thousands of suspected drug users and dealers have been killed in drive-by shootings and random attacks, in a wave of state sanctioned violence. President Duterte has rejected domestic and international calls for accountability, denying government responsibility for the deaths.

Frustrated by the lack of justice within the country, Filipino human rights campaigners are looking abroad to find solutions, and have recently connected with Filipinos living in Thailand. Marion Cabrera is one such person, part of a group called ANAK, or Advocacy Network Against Killings. They hope that they can learn from the Thai experience.

Striking similarities between the two countries

Thai academic and human rights advocated Sriprapha Petcharamesree also met with the Filipino advocates, explaining that Thailand suffered 2000 extrajudicial killings within just a three-month span in 2003. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had declared drugs the nation's No. 1 enemy, and waged his own bloody campaign.

Petcharamesree said that an official investigation in 2007 found that "more than half of those killed had no connection whatsoever with drugs."

Hearing such information, Filipino activists see striking similarities between the two countries. In both Thailand and the Philippines, strongmen leaders with strong popular support have encouraged extrajudicial killings. Few have been charged with the killings.

But in Thailand, Shinawatra eventually caved to domestic opposition against the killings. Thailand's former Minister of Justice Paiboon Koomchaya believes Thailand's harsh crackdown was a total failure. "Massive arrests and harsh punishment, it just lead to a massive loss of lives," he said. "And now every country faces the same problem: overcrowded jails."

Even though the killings have ended in Thailand, the problem isn't over. The number of inmates jailed for drug convictions in Thailand has almost doubled over the past decade.

Thailand now has the eighth-highest incarceration rate in the world according to the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, with a prison population of more than 300,000, and some 70% doing time for drug-related offenses.

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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