“No visit” and Human Rights Violation: The case of Sombat Boonngam-anong by Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Director of Cross Cultural Foundation
dated 11 June 2014
Under the declaration of martial law all over the country, there are many issues related to human rights which Bangkokian and other citizen of Thailand should be aware of, especially the “No visit” policy. In the three southernmost provinces, we have been horrified and fearful of the “No visit” for 10 years since martial law was declared there.
When the relative requested for a visit to detainees under the martial law, the officers would say that the officers were undertaking “processes,” or what could be referred to as “interrogations” which included seeking intelligence news and getting to know the network of suspect. The information collected, however, might be presented as an effect of “cooperation”. On the contrary, this practices is to us, human rights activists observing and monitoring detention issues under 7 days detention under martial law, “arbitrary detention”. In some situation this “process” could involve torture for confession, or pointing pictures, pointing photos or identifying names for further arrests. The word used in Thai is “blaming the other”.
In the context of the southernmost provinces, the officer may rely on their suspicious to call in suspect but often their evidence is not strong enough to detain a person under the existing domestic law (criminal code), therefore those suspects are called in for detention under martial law power. Under the military detention, interrogations will be conducted for 7 days or less then the suspect would be brought to emergency decree detention and later then to normal procedure under criminal code that the judicially standard applied as the same as in national wide context. In the southern provinces, the interrogation file under the martial law might be included in the prosecution file and used for the evidence in the civilian court trial. The use of evidence obtaining by special procedure might have created malfunction in administrative of justice for years till via advocacy and improving understanding of judiciary personnel, there is some precedent in the court ruling that the evidence obtaining during the so called ” special procedure” of martial law were not admissible in civilian court related to national security cases.
In these provinces, we have used campaigning and advocacy till the Internal Security Operation Command (ISOC) deleted the word “No Visit” for the first three days of the detention out from the ISOC regulation and procedure. As a consequence, suspects’ relatives can meet with detainees on the first day and the arresting officer or local officer shall also inform them on the place of detention. The relatives could follow or ask to visit the detainees on the first day to give cloths /food by hands (some army units might follow their own rules: sometimes the relatives and detainees can only look at each other, no talking, no talking in Malayu dialect, or have only around 1-2 minutes visits). This matter requires us to continue to work with patience toward changing the attitude of local officers and conforming to existing rules.
When we look closer at the application of the martial law to detain person for 7 days in Bangkok and other part of Thailand since 20 May 2014, it is clear that these rules are not enforced. The detention of Mr. Sombat is such an example: the place of his detention was a secret and his relatives were not allowed to visit him throughout 7 days. With this condition, his detention might be arbitrary and prohibited under the ICCPR even though the NCPO used his violation of the order to summon as the cause for it. The deprivation of liberty can only be done through legal means. Sombat political activist may have annoyed the NCPO but it always was carried out through peaceful means. His peaceful activism shall be respected. Mr. Sombat is not only a human rights defender now, he is also prisoner of conscience. In addition today (11 June) his 7 days detention is supposed to be over. If the detention will be prolonged and he still could not communicate to outside world this would also be regarded as incommunicado detention and if incommunicado detention is prolonged could be also violation of Convention against torture.
We hope that the officer will operate under martial law in a transparent and accountable way, with proportionate and acceptable measures. Crossing the line to human rights violation could also be a breach of a number international human rights laws that Thailand is obliged to follow even under the military government. Especially, when NCPO is about to send its representative to Geneva to give clarification of its behavior to the world this month we ask: why NCPO is using absolute governing power? Why did they dismiss the constitution? Why laws /orders are not written by legistrative branch and why civilian will be trial in military court? We demand the release of Mr. Sombat and those who were arrested at the same time with him without condition. In order to build trust in the NCPO operation’s respect of human rights, they should, if there is enough ground of his wrongdoing, trial him in a normal criminal procedure to maintain rule of law when the returning happiness mission is not yet completed.