Thailand: Survivors of torture denied justice by military dictatorship
Asian Legal Resource Centre
A concluding comment to this special issue of article 2 on ‘Torture in Thailand’s deep south’ by staff of the Asian Legal Resource Centre, Hong Kong.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. The king serves as head of state and has traditionally exerted political influence. In May 2014, military and police leaders, taking the name of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) led by General Prayuth Chan-o-cha overthrew the interim government led by the Pheu Thai political party, which had governed since 2011, following elections that were considered free and fair.
The NCPO has maintained control over the security forces and all government institutions since the coup. Furthermore, it declared martial law, issued a series of executive orders and announcements, and imposed article 44 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand (Interim) B.E.2557 (2014). According to that article, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, as the junta leader and Prime Minister, has absolute power to give any order deemed necessary to “strengthen public unity and harmony” or to prevent any act that undermines public peace.
Article 44 affects civilian law enforcement directly, due to the fact that even though martial law was revoked on 1 April 2015, it was replaced by NCPO Order No. 3/ 2015, which was issued under the authority of article 44. In practice, the effect is no different from martial law as the order permits the boundless exercise of power and also inserts military officials into the judicial process and provides them with the authority to carry out investigations along with the police. In addition, the order gives authority to military officials to detain individuals for up to seven days. During this seven-day period of detention, detainees do not have the right to meet with a lawyer or contact their relatives and the military officials further refuse to make the locations of places of detention public.
Although the NCPO lifted martial law, they replaced it with their orders, announcements and the Interim Constitution, which are all harsher than martial law. This means that they have still left the door wide open to serious violations of fundamental human rights. Representatives of non-government organizations have since reported that police and military officers have tortured and beaten suspects to obtain confessions, and the newspapers have reported cases of citizens accusing police and other security officers of brutality.
According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), since the 2014 coup, it has documented the severe torture of nineteen persons whom its lawyers are representing. They all complained about alleged torture that took place during the seven days of custody under martial law or the NCPO Order No. 3/2558, during which they did not have access to the outside world. Therefore, the allegations of torture could not be examined at the time. It is unlikely that the complaints will lead to any independent or impartial investigations.
Moreover, the reports of human rights violations under the special law in the southernmost provinces of Thailand have shown that security officers continue to use torture in the process of arrest and detention to obtain the suspect’s confession and elicit information. Thus, in 2015 alone the Muslim Attorney Centre foundation received 33 complaints from survivors, most of who had suffered from physical and mental abuse, yet the detail of torture was not recorded in the medical reports on their cases.
Not only has the military failed to act to stop cases of torture but it has also harassed human rights defenders due to them being co-editors of a report detailing torture practiced by the Thai army, police and paramilitary groups (contained in this special issue of article 2, ‘Torture in Thailand’s deep south’).
Since the launch of the report on 10 February 2016, the Thai army has been threatening the three editors and the human rights groups involved in the documentation of torture. For example, on February 11, army spokesperson Major General Banpot Poonpien, accused the groups of fabricating accounts of torture to obtain funding from abroad. He also asked whether or not the groups had the mandate to investigate the work of state officers, threatening them with criminal defamation.
On 26 June 2016, three human rights defenders were accused of criminal defamation and violation of the Computer Crimes Act for publishing the report detailing 54 cases of torture in the country’s southern provinces. The three are Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, director of the Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF), Somchai Homlaor, president of the CrCF, and Anchana Heemmina, president of Duayjai group. (For further details see the preceding article in this special issue of article 2, ‘Human rights defenders under attack in Thailand, again’).
The prosecution is just the latest illustration of how Thailand is both politically and from a human rights perspective in a state of serious decline from which it will not easily recover. Nevertheless, the Asian Legal Resource Centre stands resolutely with these human rights defenders and declares, along with their supporters around the world, that contrary to whatever military dictators and their agents may think, reporting on human rights violations is not a crime!