Statement by the Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF): PM urged to revamp a right-violation ‘disciplinary punishment’

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Released on 23rd November 2017

Statement by the Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF)

PM urged to revamp a right-violation ‘disciplinary punishment’ at the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School

In pursuance to the case of Mr. Phakhapong Tanyakan, aka ‘Nong Moei’, a first-year cadet student who died on 17 October 2017 at the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School whereas no detailed explanation has been forthcoming from concerned parties. His parents (Mr. Pichet and Mrs. Sukanya Tanyakan) were only given a death certificate which specifies a sudden heart failure as the cause of death. His family, however, insists that Mr. Phakhapong was strong and healthy prior to his death. His family also arranged for this body to be dissected to determine the cause of death at the Central Institute of Forensic Science (CIFS) during which they found the internal organs and brain had been removed from the deceased’s body and cotton wool was stuffed inside as a replacement. Thus far, the relatives have not received any written explanation from the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School regarding this matter.

Later on, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Defense Minister, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan explained to media about the cause of death prior to the revelation of the autopsy report. According to him, the student did not die from physical abuse or torture. He further said that a ‘disciplinary punishment’ (or ‘Som’ or “Fixing” in Thai) is a normal practice at the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School. As to a solution to prevent such recurrence, he told the press that “You just don’t have to study here. You don’t have to become a military officer. We only want to train those who are willing (to receive such disciplinary punishment)” Subsequently, the debate has started and people question whether his statement was appropriate or not.

The Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF) has found the death of Mr. Phakhapong while being put under the care of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School shrouded in secrecy and there has to be an attempt to investigate and to explain properly through an appropriate manner. This is particularly important in light of the fact that the Prime Minister had declared human rights as a national agenda. We also have the following issues to bring to the attention of the PM.

  1. The autopsy report of the Central Institute of Forensic Science (CIFS) should be disclosed candidly to ensure an independent investigation has been carried out and to dispel any myth in society. This should guarantee justice for Mr. Phakhapong’s family. And if it has been found out that some officers at the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School or anyone else can be held liable for this death, they have to be brought to justice and remedies should be made to compensate for the offence.
  2. Even though according to the rule, the trainer or the person ordering such disciplinary punishment is prohibited from touching the body or inflicting a cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment on the disciplined person, but in reality, there have reportedly been cases of military students/officers who have died or suffered grave injuries as a result of such disciplinary punishment. Therefore, the military authorities are urged to review such unreasonable training regime and excessive disciplinary punishment that fails to respect human rights of the military students/officers. A change should be made to a disciplinary regime that is violent and prone to be fatal.
  3. An independent mechanism with mandate should be set up to monitor, receive complaints and investigate any disciplinary punishment of junior military officers, military subordinates, or any improper disciplinary punishment which may have brought damage to their life, body or mental well-being. In addition, laws, regulations and practices that may lead to an infringement of the right to life, body and mental well-being must be reviewed.
  4. A law or regulation should be approved to establish a transparent and accountable process of autopsy, i.e. by allowing the relatives to take part or to be informed of the autopsy process including the dissecting of the body. Consent or acknowledgement from the relatives must be obtained prior to the removal of any organ of the deceased as part of the autopsy process.
  5. Cabinet members and high-ranking officers ought to be cautious with their public statement. They have to take the responsibility, be creative and should refrain from jumping to conclusions to protect or support the accused officer prior to receiving any information or the results of an investigation No misleading statement should be given prior to the establishment of the truth. Consideration must be given to the feeling of the deceased’s family and relatives. This should set a good example of public figures and high-ranking officers to young people and society.
  6. The government is urged to expedite the effort to enact the law to implement the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The Bill has been pending at the cabinet and the Parliament for more than five years. It should be promptly promulgated to make effective the prevention and suppression of torture and enforced disappearance.
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