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Revision needed to Thai law on torture, activists say

Practice should be abolished, victims compensated

Stephen Steele, Bangkok

Stephen Steele, Bangkok

Published: October 13, 2014 09:52 AM GMT

Updated: October 12, 2014 10:53 PM GMT

Revision needed to Thai law on torture, activists say

Detainees sit in the courtyard of the Narathiwat jail during a gathering of inmates and relatives in 2010 (AFP Photo/Madaree Tohlala)

Thailand's military government should amend current laws in order to prohibit the use of torture and provide compensation to torture victims, human rights activists said today in response to a court decision striking down a compensation request. 

Thailand's 2007 Constitution, which prohibits the use of torture, was terminated after the military seized power in a May 22 coup d'etat. Still human rights leaders said that Thailand was obligated under international human rights law to ban the use of torture and compensate victims.

“Regardless of the current status of the Constitution, the obligation exists on the part of the government to ensure that torture is illegal and that there's a remedy to its victims,” said Sam Zarifi, Asia/Pacific regional director for the International Commission of Jurists.

The commission joined Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in criticizing a decision by a Thai judge to dismiss a compensation claim to an alleged torture victim in Thailand's Muslim-majority south, where separatists have waged a insurgency against government forces for more than a decade.

A court in Pattani on September 7 rejected the petition for compensation from the sister of Hasan Useng, who was allegedly tortured by military and police personnel after being detained in a military camp on April 13.

Zarifi disputed the strategy used by military lawyers in the case, which he feared could be applied to other torture cases across the country.

“What's alarming is that military lawyers made an argument that could be used in other torture cases: ‘Well, this doesn't exist under the Constitution so there can be no case,’” he told ucanews.com.

The commission had filed a petition with the court in July in which it argued that the repeal of the 2007 Constitution did not affect Thailand's obligations to provide remedies to torture victims under international human rights law. The judge, in his decision, made no reference to Thailand's international obligations, Zarifi said. 

Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, director of the Cross Cultural Foundation, which monitors and documents cases of torture in Thailand's south, said torture has been used widely as a way for authorities to obtain confessions and information on the insurgency. But it doesn't work, she said.

“Torture results in an angry individual, an angry family and an angry community. The state is supposed to protect you, not hurt you. If you are trying to win the people's hearts and minds, you need to stop torture,” she said.

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The Thai Army filed a libel and defamation suit against Pornpen and the foundation in August for publishing an open letter exposing a claim of torture against the Army. She is required to report to police on Tuesday.

Zarifi said there were some hopeful signs that the situation in Thailand was improving. The Ministry of Justice is currently working on a draft amendment to criminal law that would list torture as a specific crime, he said. Officials at the ministry could not be reached for comment by the time of publication. 

Martial law was declared in Thailand's southern provinces in 2004. Since then, civil society groups have succeeded in reducing the use of torture, but have not eliminated it, Pornpen said.

“We have a better monitoring system, improvements to our policy of law and more volunteers providing assistance to victims. But Thailand is not torture free,” she told ucanews.com.

“We need a new constitution written by the military prohibiting the use of torture. We have no room for this in Thailand,” she said.


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