THAILAND: National Human Rights Commission must protect torture victims

On 17 August 2016, the Office of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRC) officially informed Ms. Pornpen Khongkachonkiet that the NHRC could not investigate the facts revealed in a torture report that she and two other human rights defenders had submitted to the NHRC. The Commission claimed that the report failed to provide sufficient facts to carry out a human rights investigation as per the NHRC mandate. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is dismayed at the NHRC’s response and calls on it to perform its role in accordance with Thailand’s obligations under international law.

On 1 February 2016, the Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF) with the Duay Jai Group and the Patani Human Rights Network had submitted the report on human rights violations under the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) to the NHRC. The report contained 54 injured parties or 80 cases of torture committed by government officials in the Southern Border Provinces that were documented during 2014 – 2015. The three editors of the report had already submitted the report to the leader of the peace dialogue team and the Commander of the Fourth Army Area and requested them to investigate those cases. However, as no progress had been made and in fact the army decided to prosecute the report’s three authors (see AHRC-STM-019-2016), Ms. Pornpen decided to submit the report to the NHRC for an investigation of the facts in order to prevent torture and others human rights violations as alleged in the report.

The torture report has recently been republished by the Asian Legal Resource Centre in its periodical article 2, and is available for download or reading online here:

The NHRC delegated the duty of investigation of the report to its Sub Committee on Human Rights in the Southern Border Provinces. After six months of reviewing and considering the report, the Sub Committee had written a summary of its findings, which concluded that

“…In most cases, the injured parties had all claimed they had been subjected to torture or inhuman treatment committed by the military and the police officials while being held in custody. The incidences took place in the Southern Border Provinces. The report has been written based on the interviews of the injured parties and their relatives, albeit their names, addresses and details of the injured parties were not mentioned and no other accompanying evidence had been given. In addition, it appears to be hearsay evidence without the attachment of testimonial forms or complaints signed by the injured parties or their relatives.”

Therefore, the NHRC had made a decision that the report failed to provide sufficient facts to carry out a human rights investigation as per Section 23 of the National Human Rights Commission Act B.E. 2542 (1999), and it was impossible to initiate an investigation of the facts pertaining to the persons mentioned in those cases.

The AHRC is gravely concerned that the decision of the NHRC will encourage a culture of impunity among Thai authorities. The NHRC should be working in accordance with the Paris Principles on National Human Rights Institutions and considering its “responsibilities for human rights protection”, including by “helping to identify and investigate human rights abuses, to bring those responsible for human rights violations to justice, and to provide a remedy and redress for victims”. These are all things that the NHRC is supposed to do. However, the denial letter has reaffirmed that the NHRC in Thailand is either disinterested or unable to fulfill its role in accordance with those Principles.

Moreover, the NHRC has failed to offer support to members of civil society who have been accused of wrongdoing simply because they are working to defend human rights. In 2016 at least four human rights defenders have been prosecuted with criminal defamation and other offences due to their work; calling for justice for torture victims, including the three editors of the torture report which was submitted to the NHRC. The judicial harassment of the co-editors of torture report is an example of state attempts to silence both human rights defenders and torture victims (see AHRC-UAC-065-2016).

In addition, the AHRC has received updated information that another torture report has been prohibited from being launched. On 28 September 2016, special branch police officers and officials from the Department of Labour Protection and Welfare intervened at a press briefing of an Amnesty International (AI) report titled “Make Him Speak by Tomorrow”: Torture and Other Ill-Treatment in Thailand. The authorities claimed that they were not barring the press briefing, but the AI speakers from the United Kingdom might be arrested if the briefing continues because they do not have work permits. However, people visiting Thailand on non-work visas speak at public events all the time. Clearly, the reason for official intervention at this event was the contents of the report.

The AHRC wishes to note that all forms of harassment and a denial of investigation in human rights violations are undermining the core protection activities of the NHRC, among which, it is supposed to prevent torture in Thailand. The AHRC urges that the NHRC collaborate with civil society in supporting the promotion and protection of human rights, rather than ignoring or obstructing human rights defenders, as is the case presently. Although the NHRC is not a substitute for law enforcement officials, its complementary mechanisms are designed to ensure that the rights of all citizens are fully protected. Thus, the AHRC calls for the NHRC to immediately investigate the cases of torture in the report submitted to it by Ms. Pornpen.