THAILAND: Who should be boss of the Department of Special Investigation?

Why is a police officer the director-general of Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation? The DSI was established under the Ministry of Justice so that it would not be subject to direct control of the police but still have full investigative power in special cases, including those where government or law-enforcement officers may themselves be suspects. When the DSI began its work, the Asian Human Rights Commission together with other organisations and rights defenders expressed sincere hope that the department would work hard to help eliminate the worst human rights violations that persist in Thailand, particularly those committed by the police. But we have all been deeply disappointed. The DSI has been a human rights failure. It has taken up few human rights cases, and solved none of them. There is no evidence that it has any sustained interest in these cases, despite occasional statements to the contrary. 

One of the main reasons for the failure of the DSI on human rights cases is that its director is a police general. In fact, he is a police general answerable to a police general (the caretaker justice minister) and a police lieutenant colonel (the caretaker prime minister). So why is he the boss rather than someone else?

To run and staff a sophisticated national-level investigative agency is not easy, in Thailand or anywhere. It requires certain personal skills, qualifications and experience. There is no doubt that the DSI can justifiably include police among its senior ranks. Seasoned police officers of integrity have unique knowledge and abilities, which if applied deliberately and effectively can be a great asset to a unit engaged in special investigations, and the country as a whole. But can the same be said when the director is a police officer? What sort of person should be in charge?

The Special Case Investigation Act BE 2547 (2004) classifies the DSI director, deputy director and other persons with powers to manage special cases under the act as “Special Case Inquiry Officials”. A Special Case Inquiry Official is defined under section 15 as “an ordinary civil servant” of at least five years experience as a special case officer at appropriate rank, or a law graduate with at least three years of relevant experience holding a level 6 position in the bureaucracy, or a law master’s degree holder or barrister with at least five years’ relevant experience, or a law doctorate holder with at least three years’ relevant experience, or a graduate in any field with at least ten years relevant experience, as per regulations. 

So the law does not stipulate that the DSI director should be a police officer. In fact, it is lawyers, not police, who are the preferred candidates for the job. Their legal training and skills are seen as key to making such a department a success, and they are less likely to be influenced by the police and other authorities that are typically responsible for rights violations. 

But whether or not the director of the DSI is a lawyer, the driving principle for it being a part of the justice ministry is the principle of civilian oversight. To eliminate abuses by the police and security officers requires civilians to be at the helm. It requires people without special allegiances, sympathies and biases towards the perpetrators of violations. It requires people who will not make compromises. Giving police officers control of such an agency defeats that principle. It perverts the very purpose of the organisation. 

Police officers, military officers and others from non-civilian backgrounds should be a part of the work of the Department of Special Investigation, side by side with lawyers, accountants, customs officials and others. But as two years of failed human rights cases have shown, they must not be allowed to run it. That must be left to someone with more credibility, which can only be obtained from another professional background. 

The reign of Pol. Gen. Sombat Amornwiwat over the Department of Special Investigation has proven that a policeman in this position will only pervert justice and protect the perpetrators, rather than uphold justice and protector human rights defenders and victims of abuses. Rather than continue in his post until retirement some time in 2007, the police general should get out now. Let someone else be given the job, accompanied by strong public discussion. The DSI is urgently needed as a meaningful and relevant organisation for human rights in Thailand. A prerequisite of this is that it be led by a civilian, not a policeman. 

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-100-2006
Countries : Thailand,
Issues : Administration of justice,