Quit delaying the anti-torture law
The long-awaited anti-torture law is set to take effect next month. However, the Royal Thai Police is requesting a delay in its enforcement, citing a lack of readiness. The government must reject this request as it is a last-ditch effort to preserve the police's often violent interrogation tactics and culture of impunity.
Power abuse by security forces is prevalent in the country, which is why it took more than a decade of legislative efforts to pass the Anti-torture and Enforced Disappearance Act. The law was announced in the Royal Gazette on Oct 24, with enforcement set to begin on Feb 22 after a 120-day grace period.
As the date quickly approaches, Pol Gen Damrongsak Kittiprapas, chief of the national policy, has requested a delay in implementation of the law. In a letter to the Ministry of Justice last month, he cited a lack of necessary equipment, police training and standard guidelines.
The anti-torture law mandates that police use body cameras when inspecting suspects. Police claim they do not have the budget to acquire body cameras and that they need more time to train officers nationwide on the new procedures. Additionally, the police claim that the law lacks substantive guidelines, making it difficult for officers to comply with the new rules.
Forcing the police to follow the new law when officers are not ready will hurt society, warned the police chief.
Such fierce resistance from the police is not surprising. The use of torture and abduction to extract confessions or silence suspects is not uncommon, just like hazing in the military and ill-treatment in prisons.
State resistance is why it took so long to pass the anti-torture and enforced disappearance law. According to the National Human Rights Commission, there were 232 complaints regarding torture while under police custody from 2015 to last year.
The 2022 Anti-Torture and Enforced Disappearances Bill was the culmination of a collaboration between the Ministry of Justice and civil society. It won approval from both the House of Representatives and the Senate at a time when the world was watching what Thailand would do to reduce human rights violations.
The bill's passage into law confirmed that Thailand was committed to abiding by the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
Police effort to delay the law has only triggered a storm of criticism.
The police request was unexpected, according to Adilan Aliishak, a Yala MP from the Palang Pracharath Party, because it went against the police's earlier assurance they would be ready for its implementation.
Pol Gen Surachate Hakparn, deputy police chief, personally told the House Committee on Law, Justice, and Human Rights in December said that the Royal Thai Police would be ready and the body cameras would be purchased using funds from the central budget.
Opposing the police's delaying tactic, the Union for Civil Liberty and 18 other human rights organisations sent an open letter to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, urging him to enact the anti-torture law as scheduled to "respect, protect, and fulfill Thailand's commitment to human rights as declared to the international community".
They also criticised the police's plan to ask the cabinet to issue an emergency decree to put off enforcing the law. Under the 2017 constitution, an emergency decree can only be issued to safeguard national security and public safety and provide assistance during natural disasters. The police plan, therefore, does not meet the charter's requirements.
Body cameras, which record audio and video, help ensure police are accountable by making their actions transparent. A study by the Police Executive Research Forum in California, United States, found that using body cameras reduces the police use of force by over 60% and citizen complaints by over 88%.
The national police chief gave the police force instructions two years ago to get ready for new procedures. So, the police's claim that they are unprepared for the use of body cameras is absurd.
The Royal Thai Police was also actively involved in the drafting of this legislation since the very beginning. Its officers couldn't simply say they weren't prepared to implement it. The law also permits police officers to use written records as official records in the absence of body cameras, so there is no excuse not to support its implementation.
Instead of resisting change, the Royal Thai Police must increase police training to comply with the new law. The Anti-torture and Enforced Disappearance Act shouldn't be put off any longer if Thailand wants to see real reform in one of its most important institutions -- the police force. After all, the law is meant to help protect citizens from abuse at the hands of state agents.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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