A coalition of human rights organisations has condemned the junta’s suspension of a bill aimed at criminalising state enforced torture and disappearance, arguing the legal gap facilitates human rights abuses.
On 1 March 2017, a coalition of human rights groups including Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, the Cross Cultural Foundation, and the Human Rights Lawyers Association released a statement
expressing alarm that the military government is taking steps backwards in the criminalisation of state enforced torture and disappearances.
In December 2016, the junta’s cabinet approved and sent a “Draft Law on Preventing Torture and Enforced Disappearances” to its appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) for deliberation. On 27 February 2017, the NLA returned the draft law with comments to the cabinet for review.
But on 28 February 2017, Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, a human rights lawyer and Director of the Cross Cultural Foundation, announced
that the NLA has suspended consideration of the bill.
The bill was the first law to recognise and criminalise torture and enforced disappearance by Thai authorities.
The human rights groups argue that measures enacted by the military government ever since the 2014 coup have made the criminalisation of torture and enforced disappearance all more urgent. During periods of martial law, and under NCPO Head Orders 3/2558 and 13/2559, authorities can detain persons up to seven days, in undisclosed locations and without allowing contact with family and lawyers.
“[These measures] which are based on Article 44 of the interim constitution place the people at risk of torture and enforced disappearance. On the other hand, Article 44 guarantees that the actions of authorities are legal, constitutional and lastly, gives birth to the impunity of those who commit crimes.”
The coalition of human rights groups believes that the junta has in the past demonstrated proficiency in investigating the crimes of authorities. Yet evidence proving authorities guilty of torture and enforced disappearance never leads to prosecution.
Obstacles to prosecution can be legal, such as the complete absence of a domestic law criminalising torture and enforced disappearance, and a ban on family members filing charges on behalf of victims of enforced disappearance.
Everyday people may be reluctant to face officials in court, particularly in military court and especially when officials harass plaintiffs through measures such as counter-prosecution.
“The Thai government does not have legal processes appropriate for responding to the complaints of victims and their families, but is instead advancing cases against those who report torture.”
Impunity is further sustained by cultures of corruption and difficulties guaranteeing the neutrality of authorities tasked with investigating senior and powerful officials.
Thailand has been a party to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment since November 2007, and signed the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in January 2012.
These international laws entail obligations to protect human rights and a duty to implement domestic laws that reflect these obligations.
Somchai was a lawyer representing ethnic Muslim Malay suspects in the Deep South of Thailand when he was abducted in Bangkok in 2004 and disappeared. His case was a landmark raising concern of enforcing disappearance in Thai society. (Photo courtesy of Luke Duggleby)