THAILAND: Paying lip-service to addressing torture

(June 26 is observed every year as the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.)

At the seventh session of the UN Human Rights Council in March 2008, the ambassador of Thailand, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, said in response to a statement by the Asian Legal Resource Centre that,

“First, I wish to point out that Thailand has already acceded to the Convention against Torture and we fully intend to adhere to our commitments and obligations under the Convention. Second, I wish to state categorically that the Thai government does not in any way condone acts that constitute the use of torture, in violation of our law and our constitution. Third, the Thai government attaches utmost importance to upholding the rule of law, justice and due process… Any case of alleged wrongdoing or abuse by state authorities or personnel will not be taken lightly and will be fully investigatedĀ”K”

Unfortunately, all of these statements are only half true, and for this reason the practice of torture continues to be widespread in Thailand until today.

It is correct that Thailand last year acceded to the UN Convention against Torture after many years of effort by many persons to see it do so, not least of all victims of torture and the families of victims of torture themselves. However, if the government is to adhere to its commitments under the Convention it must do so by introducing a domestic law to criminalise and punish torturers. This it has so far failed to do. As a consequence, it is not correct to say that torture is a violation of law in Thailand, and nor can it be correct to say that cases of abuse will be fully investigated, as at present there exists no legal or institutional means to conduct such investigations and protect, compensate and rehabilitate victims.

The Asian Human Rights Commission is among many groups that continue to report on the widespread use of torture in Thailand. For instance, in April it issued an appeal on the case of Yapa Koseng and another man, Rayu Korkor. According to the Working Group on Justice for Peace, which documented the case, Rayu alleged that police and soldiers tortured him four times over two days, including by sticking a needle under his fingernails and toenails, beating him and hanging him upside down for extended periods. Yapa did not survive to tell the tale; his dead body, also bearing signs of torture, was returned to his family. Neither of these cases have been resolved, in large part because there are neither laws nor institutions in Thailand available to investigate, prosecute and offer redress.

Aside from recent cases, to the knowledge of the Asian Human Rights Commission in not one of the hundreds if not thousands of cases from Thailand documented during this decade has an alleged torturer been prosecuted and imprisoned for his acts, even though a great many of these cases have been reported publicly, as well as directed to government and international agencies. This is despite many of these cases having strong evidence to link government officers to the crimes, including those resulting in death. This fact in itself speaks to the lack of seriousness with which the government of Thailand treats this issue, and, contrary to the words of its ambassador to the Human Rights Council, continues to implicitly condone the practice, as it has done for decades.

The cases of torture that are still emerging from all parts of Thailand underline the need for the introduction of law and agencies to deal with torturers in that country, especially a special independent investigative unit assigned to receive and investigate complaints and initiate prosecutions in the courts. If the government of Thailand really is as serious about torture as its ambassador to the Human Rights Council insists, then it will not hesitate to get on with the job of making the changes and assigning the funds necessary to make a real difference, rather than just paying lip-service in Geneva to ending torture at home.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-177-2008
Countries : Thailand,
Issues : Torture,