Tag Archives: Emergency Decree

Consistently counter-productive

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Extracts from a new report: Human Rights under Attack, by the Working Group on Justice for Peace, Thailand

One policy that has been consistently counter-productive is the government’s reliance on poorly trained, ill-disciplined para-military forces and civilian militias. Although they have a long-standing history in Thailand, since 2004 their strength in the South has been increased massively. There is a confusing multiplicity of groups – the paramilitary rangers, an interior ministry force known as the Volunteer Defence Corps, several loosely supervised village volunteer forces and an unknown number of smaller sectarian militias – added to the regular army, police and border patrol police. The largest armed force in the South is a civilian militia consisting of Village Defence Volunteers recruited under the Internal Security Operations Command and the Village Protection Force recruited under Queen Sirikit’s direction tasked with protecting Buddhist communities. Continue reading

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Thailand imperilled by masculinity, not pregnancy

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Thailand’s coup leader has uncovered a new and serious threat to national security. No, it’s not imminent bloodshed of the sort that was supposedly about to tear the country asunder last year, obliging him to play the part of reluctant gentleman usurper.

Nor is it yet another clique of the former prime minister’s tricky supporters, hoping to sneak back into government via the forthcoming general election. This time the threat has come not from within but from abroad.

Is it the military regime in neighboring Burma? Unlikely, given that the army general felt that it used “correct procedure” in handling recent mass protests, and he didn’t believe the photos anyhow.

How about religious zealots hoping to stoke the flames of unrest in the south? Uh-uh, too difficult, not them either. No, the latest astonishing problem that General Sonthi Boonyaratglin has uncovered is childbirth.

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Getting the fish back into the water

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Photo: Boy at a checkpoint in the south (Steve Sandford)

เอาปลากลับคืนสู่น้ำ (ประชาไท)

When Madi Alilatay of Yala, southern Thailand was transferred to army premises on July 23 this year he was not charged with anything. He was not held under any law, for any reason, or for any purpose. At least, that is how the report of his custody reads. Although the 26-year-old plantation worker and eight others were ostensibly detained under sweeping emergency provisions in force across three southernmost provinces, the form consists of little more than officers’ and detainees’ names. Everything else is left blank. This is emergency law in action.

As a record of how a group of nine men were deprived of their liberty, it reflects an alarming disinterest in rules and procedure among soldiers and other personnel active in the south. And it is indicative of its type. The records of others taken during this time similarly reveal only who and when; nothing of how and why.

There are at least two reasons for this.

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A first step towards ending torture in Thailand

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Thailand at the start of the month acceded to the U.N. Convention against Torture, after years of work by many persons, among them human rights advocates and personnel in its justice ministry; the latter having convinced those in other parts of government that agreeing to the treaty’s terms would not be against their interests.

Torture is widespread in Thailand, largely because it remains nigh impossible to hold police or soldiers legally accountable for their crimes. When over fifty years ago police general Phao Sriyanond, himself an army officer, said that, “There is nothing under the sun that the Thai police cannot do,” he did not mean that the police were indomitable but rather that they were untouchable. His legacy survives today. The former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra pointedly quoted Phao when launching the deadly “war on drugs” in 2003.

Every year, rights defenders in Thailand document hundreds of cases of alleged torture while thousands more go unreported. Public campaigns are limited as victims are justifiably afraid and have few hopes for redress. Not a single accused has been brought before a court of law. Even in the most blatant cases, such as where people have been taken from police stations to hospitals with burns covering their genitalia, the perpetrators have remained beyond reach [see: here and here]. In the south, emergency regulations have placed the army so far outside of the justice system that the victims of its excesses do not even consider complaining to criminal investigators or the courts.

Given the prevalence and severity of torture in Thailand, and the impunity enjoyed by torturers, joining this treaty is an important step that must be backed by the legal and institutional changes needed to give it effect. They include the following.

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The pretence of legality

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On July 17 the government of Thailand renewed a state of emergency over the southern border provinces for the ninth time since it was introduced two years ago. That the bloodshed in the south has only worsened in these years should not be a surprise to anybody. The weakening of already limited safeguards on the activities of police, soldiers and paramilitaries there was certain to encourage more violence.

The emergency decree not only permits but also obliges extraordinary detention of suspects, by providing that “Competent officials shall be empowered to arrest and detain suspects for a period not exceeding seven days…in a designated place which is not a police station, detention center, penal institution or prison.” The effect of this clause — together with other parts of the decree — is to all but guarantee the use of torture, forced disappearance and extrajudicial killing, for which state officers need not fear consequences as they are anyhow exempt from prosecution if they have acted in “good faith”. As the decree is so vague that anything could be construed as good faith, as victims are unwilling to complain, as police won’t investigate and as judges are unlikely to hear any cases, this amounts to a blanket impunity clause.

Meanwhile, the junta that took power in Bangkok last September has proposed a national security law that owes much of its contents to the decree. The draft bill permits the army commander to curtail undefined security threats without requiring the approval of the prime minister. It grants him powers to shut roads and stop vehicles, close public gatherings, keep someone under house arrest, order employers to report on employees, oblige the police and civilian officials to cooperate with the army wherever and however necessary, issue preventive arrest orders, summon anyone to appear before a designated official on any grounds, search persons or vehicles or premises at will, seize anything, and “conduct suppressive operations against a person or group of persons or organization which gives rise to actions threatening internal security.”

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