Torture law must pass
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Torture law must pass

This week the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) will begin winding up business for the year. On the schedule for Thursday is the reading of a bill that is long overdue. If passed -- and it must -- it will officially bar government and security forces from using torture and enforced disappearance. It is shocking, this far into the 21st century, that a civilised nation has never prohibited these odious practices.

As of today, the bill criminalises all torture and enforced disappearances, always. No government, police or military unit can legally justify their use. Even in war, and even in the worst imaginable civil unrest, both acts will be banned. The NLA must resist pressure, regime orders or any other blandishment to change this total prohibition.

The call for laws banning these two terrible crimes is old and widespread in the country. Governments, including the current military regime, have lobbied or been pressured to lobby against such a law. Torture and brutality are unfortunately built into far too many of our country's security systems. Police and military interrogators are known to use torture to extract confessions. The number of times it has been used could fill a book. In fact it has, several times over.

Authorities, from new police recruits up to the head of the military regime, know torture is barbarous, and at least some of those who employ it are barbarians. How do we know this? When presented with absolutely irrefutable proof of the use of torture -- wounds, witnesses and even death -- torturers and their bosses to the very top of the chain of command strongly deny it. They lie because they are ashamed.

In the most recent and blatant example, three civil society groups documented more than 50 separate cases of torture in the deep South. They produced a bilingual report, simply entitled Torture. The military units involved retaliated with a striking and shameful campaign of incredible denial and intimidation against the groups and, individually, their leaders.

Now there is to be a law, providing a simple way for the army and police to avoid public disclosure of the use of torture. That way is simply not to torture. And while the mere existence of a law can't stop misguided and brutal men from carrying out inhumane and illegal acts, it puts the intimidation factor on the other foot.

The same can be said for enforced disappearance -- generally defined as state actors removing "inconvenient" critics by extra-judicial means. This has happened under almost every government of the past 50 years. Amnesty International's Thailand station lists 59 cases since the beginning of the millennium where human rights defenders have suddenly and silently disappeared.

Notorious cases include the disappearance in 2004 of Muslim civil rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit, who ironically was defending torture victims. Karen human rights activist Porlajee "Billy" Rakchongcharoen disappeared in 2014 after confronting the chief warden of Kaeng Krachan National Park. The Chaiyaphum land rights activist Den Khamlae gave three decades of arrogant and lawbreaking officials a hard time until they disappeared from him on April 16, 2016.

As with torture, a law forbidding security agencies from abducting and killing activists will not, by itself, prevent such murders. But the pending bill mandates that torture and disappearance cases be investigated by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), and prescribes penalties of up to 25 years in prison and a 300,000-baht fine. The minimum prison sentence for disappearing or aiding in the enforced disappearance will be five years.

That is, it will be if NLA members stay the course. Media, the public and right-minded civil groups must monitor and encourage the NLA members to do the right thing and pass this bill. It's the least the legislature can do to show the country cares about these issues.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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