After a long waiting game, the police and other law enforcement agencies must fully implement the Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act after the Constitutional Court on Thursday ruled 8-1 against an executive decree postponing the enforcement of sections 22-25 of the Act until October this year, calling it unconstitutional.
First announced in the Royal Gazette on Oct 25 last year, the Act came into force on Feb 22 with the exception of the aforementioned sections, which experts say contain the key features of the anti-torture legislation.
Section 22, for instance, obliges law enforcement officials to keep voice and video recordings of a suspect's arrest and release, while Section 23 requires officers to record all details pertaining to a suspect's arrest. Section 24 guarantees relatives' right to access information about a suspect in custody, while Section 25 prevents law enforcement agencies from revealing a suspect's personal information to the media and/or other channels.
Thursday's ruling came on the back of a petition submitted earlier in the year by 100 coalition MPs, after the cabinet agreed to partially postpone the enforcement of said sections, citing a lack of budget and clear guidelines.
It is hoped the Act, which took over a decade to draft and pass, will put an end to human rights violations in official custody, state-sponsored torture and/or enforced disappearances. According to the National Human Rights Commission, there were 232 complaints regarding torture in police custody between 2015 and last year.
The delay was requested by the Royal Thai Police, which asked the cabinet in January to postpone the enforcement of sections 22-25 for six months, citing the need to prepare for the new law.
The Constitutional Court ruling is the final nail in the coffin of any effort by the police to further delay the Act's enforcement. But for it to make a difference, the caretaker administration must do everything in its power to ensure police officers and other law enforcement agents can comply with the new law right away.
The RTP had said it would need 3.4 billion baht to purchase 171,808 body cameras for its officers, 1,578 sets of dashboard cameras and 6,244 items of CCTV equipment to ensure all police remand spaces are up to standard, not to mention an additional budget for a system to store all the additional data. State auditors must verify the police's purchase to make sure the contracts are transparent and corruption-free.
Above all, the government must examine state policies and practices which contravene this anti-torture legislation and have them rectified or repealed. One policy that may risk violating this legislation is the MoU between the Royal Thai Army and the Myanmar government which might violate the principle of non-refoulement encapsulated in this law.
The army must come clean about the criteria used by the Thai army to decide who gets to be sent back to Myanmar and explain how the army can be sure that it has not sent any anti-government protesters back into the hands of Myanmar's junta.
What is more worrying is that after all these years, most people do not know much about the anti-torture law, despite the fact that it has been in place for almost three months. The government and civic groups must work harder to promote and educate the public. Without public acknowledgement and understanding, this anti-torture legislation risks becoming futile.