The Asian Human Rights Commission shares in the worldwide concern over the recent violence in Bangkok, and especially deplores the loss of life, irrespective of all other factors. It calls upon the government of Thailand to do all that it can to restore peace and ensure public security without further bloodshed.
Although the situation is still uncertain and changing, it is clear that the armed forces and other security personnel have taken many people into custody under the auspices of the state of emergency declared in accordance with Emergency Decree BE 2548 (2005), which at latest count has been brought into effect in 19 out of Thailand’s 76 provinces, on top of the three southernmost provinces where it was already in force.
The AHRC from the beginning strongly opposed the passing of this law under the former government of Pol. Lt. Col. Thaksin Shinawatra. Not only the AHRC but a United Nations expert characterized it as providing an umbrella of impunity for government officials in very dangerous situations. Since the decree was introduced into the far south of Thailand five years ago, there have been deaths in custody, forced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture and other abuses that can be attributed directly to its enforcement.
Under the present circumstances in Bangkok and other parts of Thailand now under the state of emergency, it is not clear how many detainees are being held under the decree or how many are being processed under the ordinary criminal law. It is clear that many have been taken into army custody. It is also clear that many have been blindfolded at time of arrest and when transferred to facilities. It is not clear in which facilities or in what conditions they are being held, in part because whereas under the ordinary law they must be held in police stations and official institutions, section 12 of the decree provides for the exact opposite: that detention be “in a designated place which is not a police station, detention centre, penal institution or prison”, on the reasoning that detainees under its terms have not been formally charged with any offence.
The security of detainees depends upon the circumstances and locations of detention being made clear. Therefore, the Asian Human Rights Commission urgently calls upon the government of Thailand to:
1. Guarantee the safety of all detainees in accordance with its obligations as a newly-elected member of the UN Human Rights Council and a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in particular its article 9 that,
“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law. Anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him. Anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release…”
And article 10 that, “All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.”
2. Declare officially the number of persons that it has taken into custody, the places that they are being held, the provisions of law under which they are being detained, the arrangements that have been made for their medical treatment and food, and other pertinent facts.
3. Provide all detainees full access to lawyers, doctors and family members, again in accordance with domestic and international law, in particular, article 14 of the ICCPR.
4. Explain why many persons taken into custody have been blindfolded, and why a group of protest leaders who reportedly surrendered to the police have since reportedly been transferred to army custody.
The Asian Human Rights Commission firmly acknowledges that the government of Thailand is entitled to take legal action against all persons it has reason to believe have committed criminal acts, but this must be done in accordance with law and with full regard to the country’s international obligations. It underscores that the government at this critical time has special responsibility to protect the lives and physical integrity of all persons in its custody, a responsibility from which under international law it cannot absolve itself under any circumstances.