Bangladeshi authorities have vowed to take “drastic” measures to reduce drug use, potentially including the creation of a list of "drug addicts" in the country.
On 14 March, the Bangladesh Department of Narcotics Control (DNC) published a document proposing a study into the rate of drug use, which it viewed as an increasingly serious threat to the country.
"Drug addiction … is turning in to a grave situation … The nation as a whole is in panic with the consequence of [the] increasing trend of using diversified additive [sic] items," it notes, "we need to do something drastic without any delay to come out from this evil situation. Otherwise, the whole nation may immediately start suffering so much [that it] will go beyond recovery and repair".
At the time, the DNC claimed the study would be aimed at ascertaining the extent of "drug addiction" in Bangladesh, as well as developing an "understanding of both demand and supply" issues. However, in early June, a senior DNC official claimed that the study has taken an unprecedented twist: it will be used to create a list of all "drug addicts" in the country.
The announcement – made by the DNC’s assistant director for the Dhaka metropolitan region, Mohammad Khorshid Alam – has been reported on by English-language Bangladeshi newspapers, the Dhaka Tribune and the New Nation. While it seems logistically unfeasible for the state to accurately create a list of all people with problematic drug use, the mere suggestion of doing so is suggestive of a ramp-up in the Bangladeshi war on drugs that may pose serious human rights risks.
Alam did not elaborate on what the DNC or the government sought to do with such a list.
A similar scheme whereby local officials were asked to submit lists of people who use drugs to the state was attempted in the Philippines in September. Over 9,000 people have been killed in the Philippines by police or vigilantes for alleged involvement with drugs during the past year, and the creation of such lists may have expedited the slaughter.
The Bangladesh DNC’s announcement comes amid an apparent rise in problematic “yaba” (methamphetamine pills) use in the country, as well as increasingly authoritarian and moralistic rhetoric around drugs from state officials.
Citing data from Youth First Concerns, a Bangladesh-based humanitarian organisation, the Dhaka Tribune recently claimed that there are an estimated seven million with problematic drug use in the country – an increase from an estimated six million in 2013. The total population of Bangladesh is around 164 million. The Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee for the Ministry of Home Affairs, Tipu Munshi, recently claimed that there are 550,000 "drug addict children" in Bangladesh.
In February, law enforcement, health experts, journalists, and other prominent individuals convened an emergency roundtable event to discuss the "epidemic" of problematic drug use in Bangladesh, particularly in regards to yaba.
Speaking at the event, the DNC’s Director General, Khandakar Rakibur Rahman, warned that the mass criminalisation of people for drug offences was not sufficient to reduce use.
“The drug offenders languishing in jail in Bangladesh constitute 30 percent of the total drug prisoners across the globe,” Rahman claimed, without citing a source. “[Arresting] the drug offenders … is not enough to eliminate the problem from the society. We have to create public awareness to fight the drug abuse effectively. The drug addicts should be treated well. They ought to be integrated into the mainstream society. Their employment is a must.”
While Rahman’s remarks suggest potential for an increased focus on health rather than criminalisation, the country’s leader – Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina – has painted a different picture; linking drug use to violence and sin.
"Youths must refrain from drugs, terrorism, extremism and militancy because these menaces never drive anyone to a healthy way, and these will never let anyone to go to heaven," she asserted in November.
"[Drug use] destroys family and life of the people [and] when a man takes drugs he loses his potency and thinking ability, gets sick and dies", she has claimed.
While it is yet to be seen how officials will attempt to create a list of people who use drugs, the DNC’s announcement – alongside remarks from the prime minister – highlight an apparent increase in the authoritarianism of the Bangladeshi approach to drug use.