Criminalise state torture

Criminalise state torture

(Bangkok Post file photo)
(Bangkok Post file photo)

As long as Thailand does not criminalise enforced disappearances and torture committed by state officials, anyone could become a victim of state actors' extrajudicial acts without getting justice -- such as in the case of Karen human rights activist Porlajee "Billy" Rakchongcharoen.

Five years ago today, Mr Porlajee was last seen while in the custody of Kaeng Krachan National Park officials who arrested him for "collecting wild honey". He never returned home.

In common with similar incidences, his disappearance remains an unsolved mystery.

At the time of his arrest, he was helping members of the Karen ethnic group sue Chaiwat Limlikit-aksorn, the former chief of Kaeng Krachan National Park, for setting fire to their homes and rice barns during a series of forest evictions.

Given this conflict, it is believed he has become another victim of enforced disappearance. Even though his family brought the case against Mr Chaiwat and other officials to court, they were acquitted of any murder charge due to a lack of evidence.

And although the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) decided to take up this case and has been searching for new evidence since June last year, there has not been much progress.

There have been numerous cases of torture and enforced disappearances in Thailand in the past few decades alone. Previous notorious cases include the 2004 disappearance of Muslim civil rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit, in whose disappearance five police officers were allegedly involved. As enforced disappearances are not criminalised by law, prosecutors charged the police officers with robbery and coercion. They were all acquitted in 2015.

Another case took place in 2016. Grassroots land rights activist Den Khamlae disappeared in a forest in Chaiyaphum following his campaign against the state's effort to evict forest dwellers.

On the bright side, there has been a legislative effort to address the issue. Since 2014, the current government has proposed the Torture and Enforced Disappearance Prevention and Suppression bill that will forbid state officials from using torture and enforced disappearances to punish those breaking the law.

However, the passage of the law has proceeded at a snail's pace. The bill is currently being vetted by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) which has expressed concern the law could obstruct the work of the authorities.

Human rights defenders are worried the NLA may water down the bill during the vetting process, which is closed to the public, by removing certain sections. These include a provision that bars authorities from citing national security as a reason for their extrajudicial actions.

The NLA must be aware that taking out such a provision will turn the bill into a toothless law. "National security" has been indiscriminately and wrongfully used by the police and the military in past years as a basis for their abuse of power, such as the police's interrogation of suspects or secret military detention of political dissenters and suspected insurgents in the Deep South.

If the NLA cannot offer a law that can actually protect people against state actors' torture and enforced disappearances, it should let it be the job of new members of parliament. Thailand indeed must criminalise such forms of extrajudicial acts. But the country needs a law that has teeth and does not further foster a culture of impunity.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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