Anti-torture bill overdue

Anti-torture bill overdue

If there was ever a law that could deal with the notorious case of "Joe Ferrari" and the other policemen charged with torturing a drug suspect to death it would be the possible promulgation of the draft bill on the Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act.

This draft bill was written primarily to prevent rouge officials from torturing suspects or abducting people with critical views. It was written five years ago and has since been on ice.

There have been a number of cases where Thai state officials have been accused of using torture on suspects during the interrogation.

For enforced abductions, the United Nations has stated that 86 people -- mostly villagers protesting against state development projects, political protesters, and human rights activists -- have been victims of enforced disappearances or abduction, since 1980.

Needless to say, the country has been waiting too long for this draft bill which the cabinet placed in parliament's law deliberation pipeline on Aug 27.

Even so, human rights advocates say they are prepared for a letdown. They saw the draft bill tabled in the parliament for a final reading in 2019. It was thrown out at the last minute and put on the sidelines without a valid explanation.

But now, the draft is again tabled in the House for reading.

MPs will convene for a meeting tomorrow to read all the proposed legislation with this draft bill listed as third in line to be dealt with.

Despite the draft bill winning the support of MPs from both sides, there's a chance that the House will focus on other issues and, once again, bypass it.

Yet there's also the hope that House Speaker Chuan Leekpai -- a former prime minister, a former justice minister, and law school graduate -- will fast-track this draft for it to be deliberated first.

If the House adopts the draft bill before the current round of House sessions at the end of this week, a sub-committee will then be formed to scrutinise the draft in order to table the final text for MPs and senators in the next session scheduled for November. Then it will stand a strong chance that it will be promulgated within this year.

But if not, the draft will need to wait for the next parliamentary session in November. The question will then be why does society have to wait for such a crucial law that should have been passed several years ago?

To end systematic rights abuses, Thailand needs a better law to plug loopholes in existing criminal laws that are insufficient in dealing with the elusive nature of torture and enforced abduction.

For instance, domestic law does not have a specific penalty or provision for an act of torture which is criminalised only if there is physical evidence such as apparent wounds. The draft bill will make criminalise torture without solely relying on physical evidence.

On enforced abduction, the existing law requires solid evidence for filing charges such as bodily remains and witnesses. In practice, families of victims have struggled to find evidence such as seen in the case of Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit who disappeared in 2004 and was classified as a "missing person". Meanwhile, the policemen who were charged with kidnapping him were tried but not prosecuted due to a lack of evidence.

Our law still has legal loopholes that embolden rights abuses, so the House has a moral obligation to pass this bill as soon as possible. If it is again put on ice, that will show us the House is part of the problem.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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