On December 12, 1997, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed June 26 the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Illegal under international law, torture attempts to break the human spirit– disregarding the rights and dignity of its victims. June 26 is subsequently a time for remembrance and support. However, this day is also a call to action to examine the role torture plays in each UN member state. In the case of Thailand, there is still ample progress needed to eliminate torture and support torture victims.
Torture in Thailand
During 2019 and 2020, Thailand’s public news reported nine torture cases: five were instances of abuse by military officials or occurred during military camps, three were committed by police officials, and one was in a cadet tutoring school. However, the actual instances of torture are much more prolific. In Thailand’s deep south, there were 142 detentions of civilians that were reported to civil society networks in 2019. In addition, 22 more cases have been reported in 2020. Patterns of torture and human rights violations from 2019-2020 can be categorized into eight types:
- Being forced to continuously stand in a freezing room for a prolonged period
- Threatening to harm a victim’s family
- Physical assault that resulted in scars and deformities
- Restricting an individual from participation in religious activities
- Inhumane and degrading treatment, including forced nudity
- Physical assault that left no external marks but caused internal organ injurie
- Smacking on the ears.
From 2018 to 2020, most torture victims were individuals detained under the jurisdiction of special counter-insurgency laws in the southern border provinces. Specifically, the Internal Security Act and the implementation of Martial Law, which grants excessive power to Internal Security Operations Command Four. This has resulted in the non-independence of the police, prosecutors, ministry of justice officials and medical personnel. In addition, it is extremely difficulty for paralegals to support torture victims under the complex military rule. Despite numerous torture victims, ISOC4 continues to deny the existence of torture practices.
One of the most notorious torture cases in the deep south was the death of Abdulloh Esormusor, a suspected insurgent detained by the military. Despite Abdulloh’s severe state of brain swelling from oxygen deprivation, the military refused to provide even basic information about the cause of injury, the methods of interrogation, or the treatment given before his admittance to the hospital. This led to a public inquiry concerning the cause of death. On June 29, the case will undergo an evidence examination in the Songkhla provincial court
Another instance of torture is the case of the Saisa Brothers. They were suspected of drug trafficking and taken by a military anti-drug unit to their base. The two detainees were tortured during their custody and forced to confess that they sold drugs in the local area. While Natthapong Saisa suffered from bone injuries, Yutthana Saisa died from severe brain and chest damage. Human rights organizations urged the Thai government to investigate the case and stop this abuse. This resulted in seven soldiers admitting to torturing the two men and subsequently paying compensation to the Saisa family.
Even though there have been numerous instances of torture, the government’s efforts to prevent torture and inhumane treatment remain insufficient. Although Thailand ratified the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT) in 2007 and signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances (ICPPED) in 2012, the country has yet to pass legislation that criminalizes torture and acts of enforced disappearance.
In 2014, the ‘Suppression and Prevention of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Bill’ was drafted by the Ministry of Justice to criminalize both torture and disappearances. In 2016, the draft bill from the MOJ drafting committee was submitted before the Council of State and the National Legislative Assembly for review and final approval. Yet, the bill stalled and in February, 2018, the bill was dismissed from public hearing. As concerns over lack of public participation in the creation of the draft bill grew, human rights organizations developed the Civil Society Organization version of the draft bill in 2019. This bill is more congruent with international standards and states there is no justification for an act of torture, including under the circumstances of war and Martial Law. On January 30, 2020, the CSO draft bill was submitted to the Standing Committee on Legal Affairs, Justice and Human Rights within the Thai Parliament.
Despite six years of attempts to codify the illegality of torture and enforced disappearances under Thai law, Thailand’s pledge to do so remains unfulfilled. Even now, the CSO draft bill has incurred significant delays due to administrative obstacles and political interventions. Without this law, there is no foreseeable end to the rampant culture of impunity in Thailand. Victims of torture and enforced disappearances will continue to remain in the shadows without access to state protection.
Moreover, human rights violations during the COVID-19 outbreak have increased the conditions for torture within Thailand. The pandemic has been used as an excuse to restrict people’s rights and liberties as the government implements special regulations under the guise of protecting its citizens. This primarily manifests in four ways. First, in the enforcement of the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations B.E. 2548 (2005). This Decree has repressed citizens’ freedom of expression and right to information. For example, Thailand’s establishment of the “Anti-Fake News Center” shut down criticism, suppressed the spread of information, and portrayed only the official narrative as factual.
Second, in instance of arrest, the Decree strips detainees of their right to an attorney and fair trial for up to a month while permitting detentions outside of official prisons. This means that the uses of violence by authorities is legally uncheckable.
Third, political protests have been delegitimized as an “unofficial narrative” by the Decree. Many protestors who attempt to check and balance government regulations face charges and are detained for violating COVID-19 stay at home and social distance orders.
And lastly, evidence show that the authorities collected biometric data (DNA) of locals under the justification of tracking the virus. These actions by the government have fueled an uneasiness amongst the people. The government’s expansion of control and monitoring mechanisms when combined with their failure to report their policies undertaken through the Emergency Decree make tracking human rights violations, including torture, much more difficult.
To diminish human rights violations and combat the use of torture in Thailand, the Cross-Cultural Foundation firmly suggests that the Thai government do the following:
- End their use of the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations. The Decree, rather than being used to prevent the Covid-19 outbreak, violates citizens’ basic rights while expanding the power of the government. Rather than the Decree, the government should consider other methods of dealing with the pandemic such as the Communicable Disease Act, which confers power to the Ministry of Public Health.
- End their use of the Internal Security Act and Martial Law in the Southern Border Provinces. These policies give ISOC unchecked power under the guise of national security, which has resulted in numerous instances of torture.
- Pass the CSO version of the Suppression and Prevention of Torture and Enforced Disappearances Bill. This will make torture and enforced disappearances illegal while ensuring Thailand’s domestic law is compatible with the international treaties Thailand signed and ratified.
Expand how authorities conceptualize security to include basic human rights principles. This is crucial, as it works as a foundation for the first three solutions. A stable and safe society is one where all citizens, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, and religion feel protected.
These changes may take time to implement. However, they are crucial for creating a safer society within Thailand. The Cross-Cultural Foundation is committed today, and every day, to listening to victims of torture, representing them within the legal system, and advocating for policies that prevent such injustices from happening.