THAILAND: Police must under no circumstances be given responsibility for protecting witnesses from other police

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is writing to you today to express grave concern regarding information it has received that witnesses and victims in cases where the police are the alleged perpetrators are from the end of the month to be offered protection by police rather than officers under your Ministry.

According to the information we have received, Angkhana Neelaphaijit, the wife of abducted human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit, will from February 29 no longer receive protection from personnel assigned by the Department of Special Investigation, Ministry of Justice. Instead, the Department will give police officers the task. Likewise, at least three victims of alleged police torture and the grandmother of a man allegedly abducted and killed by the police are also to have police officers take responsibility for their protection, instead of departmental staff.

The AHRC is alarmed by this proposal to transfer protection duties in these cases to police personnel, as it would defeat the entire purpose of the witness protection programme set up by your ministry in accordance with the Witness Protection Act BE 2546 (2003).

The Witness Protection Act of Thailand, introduced through the now abrogated Constitution of BE 2540 (1997), was a welcome initiative because although it recognised the importance of offering protection and also for the first time acknowledged that it should not be the responsibility of police to protect victims and witnesses of serious crimes, paving the way for an Office of Witness Protection under your Ministry. This was all the more important in Thailand in view of the fact that it is the police themselves who stand accused of a great many grave offences, including widespread acts of killing, torture and forced disappearance.

However, as you are aware, that Office has few staff and funds with which to carry out its activities and thus it falls to other agencies to take the actual responsibility for protecting witnesses. Unfortunately, this already results in unsatisfactory arrangements where police officers are assigned responsibility for protecting people against other police officers. Unsurprisingly, witnesses are unwilling to have police protect them from other police, even where they are not from the same units or regional command, as has sometimes been the case. However, they have little choice other than to either accept protection from persons upon whom they cannot rely for their security, or be left to fend for themselves.

Defence of human rights and upholding of law depends upon strong witness protection. Witnesses and victims need to be reassured that they and their families will not face reprisals before, during and after trial. Without this much, they will not cooperate. If they do not cooperate, a trial is made into a travesty. If large numbers of people do not cooperate, there is no administration of justice.

Clearly, both the Act and the work of the Office need to be strengthened greatly in order to expand the work of non-police agencies in protecting witnesses and victims in Thailand. It is thus very disturbing to hear that the opposite is happening and that these small steps in the right direction are already being reversed.

The Asian Human Rights Commission thus calls upon you to ensure that:

a. Angkhana Neelaphaijit and other witnesses and victims of alleged crimes committed by the police continue to receive protection from personnel under the Ministry of Justice, not the Royal Thai Police or agencies closely linked to the police.

b. The work of the Office of Witness Protection under your Ministry is strengthened by increased funding and personnel and arrangements for it to play a stronger role in the handling of cases where parties are in need of protection than it has at present, and sufficient personnel and funds also be given to agencies such as the Department of Special Investigation to carry out protection work.

c. Clear guidelines are laid down so that cases where police are the accused under absolutely no circumstances other police are given responsibility for protecting witnesses and victims.

d. The Witness Protection Act is amended to give coverage to a wider range of persons, including defendants in criminal cases.

We trust that you will be concerned to ensure that nothing happens to these victims and witnesses as a result of a rash and wrong decision on the part of the Department of Special Investigation to have police officers assigned as protection officers in cases that are its responsibility, not the responsibility of the police, for the very reason that the police cannot be trusted to handle them. We expect you will ensure that police are not assigned duties on these or any other human rights cases of this sort, and that you will be keen to see the witness protection responsibilities of your Ministry further expanded rather than undermined through such short-sighted actions.

In order to assist you in this regard, we enclose a copy of a report on witness protection in Thailand that was published in 2006 by our sister organisation, the Asian Legal Resource Centre, which is also available in both Thai and English online:

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

1. Samak Sundaravej, Prime Minister, Thailand
2. Noppadon Pattama, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Thailand
3. Pol. Maj. Chalerm Yoobumrung, Minister of Interior, Thailand
4. Sunai Manomai-udom, Director General, Department of Special Investigation, Thailand
5. Chaikasem Nitisiri, Attorney General, Thailand
6. Professor Saneh Chamarik, Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission, Thailand
7. Vasant Panich, Chairperson, Subcommittee on Legislation and Administration of Justice, National Human Rights Commission, Thailand
8. Dej-Udom Krairit, President, Lawyers Council of Thailand
9. Homayoun Alizadeh, Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific of OHCHR

Document Type : Open Letter
Document ID : AHRC-OLT-004-2008
Countries : Thailand,