ALRC: End impunity for state violence

ALRC: End impunity for state violence

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) submitted a four-page written document to the Human Rights Council on Wednesday, calling for Thailand to abolish the tradition of impunity from punishment for violence by state officials.

The Hong Kong-based ALRC said it was concerned that police officers convicted last month for the extrajudicial murder of Kiattisak Thitboonkrong had obtained bail pending appeal. Three received the death penalty, one life imprisonment and the fifth a seven-year sentence.

The ALRC is non-governmental organisation based in Hong Kong which has consultative status with the Geneva-based Council for Human Rights.

"The convictions are of such gravity that good reason exists to expect that the convicted police will attempt to evade punishment by absconding or other means," the ALRC statement said. They might also seek to extract revenge on one or more of the people who testified against them.

The ALRC urged that the granting of bail be revoked and the five convicted police officers be imprisoned while awaiting the outcome of their appeals.

The ALRC also asked Thai authorities to ensure that witnesses and human rights defenders in this case continue to receive witness protection, as the Asian Human Rights Commission, the ALRC's sister organisation, had advised the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in a separate appeal.

As a principle of human rights the ALRC, which also opposes the death penalty under all circumstances, called for the sentences in this case to be reviewed and that the convicted police officers instead receive appropriate prison terms.

"In a country in which impunity for state violence is long-standing, institutionalised, and a public fact, the decision in this case is a significant victory for the family of the victim and serves as a cautious signal of the possibility of accountability to others," the statement said.

The ALRC has brought this case to the attention of the Human Rights Council "to highlight a significant success by human rights defenders to secure justice after a protracted struggle as well as to suggest how the decision in this case may be used to encourage the end of impunity in other outstanding cases of state violence".

Another no-progress case was the abduction of missing Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit on March 12, 2004.

At the time of his disappearance, Somchai was representing clients police had tortured as part of their counterinsurgency operations in southern Thailand. Concerted action by his family and human activists, and intervention by the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, led to the prosecution of five police officers in connection with his disappearance and presumed murder.

"However, due to a combination of consistent obfuscation by the involved police officers as well as inability to account for the crime of disappearance within existing Thai legal categories, all but one of the police officers was acquitted."

The one officer convicted of relatively minor offences also disappeared and was subsequently acquitted on appeal. The body of Somchai has not been found and his case remains unsolved.

"The ALRC urges the Government of Thailand to amend the Criminal Code to account for the crime of disappearance, and, more importantly, to foster a culture within which the state security forces actively work against, rather than encourage, the casual use of extrajudicial violence," it said.

Also, during the clashes and the subsequent government crackdown on the red-shirt protests by members of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) in April-May 2010, 94 people were killed and more than 2,000 were injured, the statement said.

"A series of investigations have been carried out by different kinds of actors, including a state agency, two state-appointed independent bodies, and a citizen group. With the exception of the citizen group, the People's Information Centre (PIC), which released its report in late August 2012, the operations and results of the investigations have not yet been made available to the public."

The ALRC called on the DSI and the two state-appointed independent bodies, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Thailand and the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, to complete their investigations and share the information with the public.

"The ALRC welcomes the report of the PIC as an important action by citizens in the service of protecting human rights and ending impunity.

"At the same time, the ALRC would like to highlight the fact that the securing of accountability is not only the responsibility of citizens, but the state must actively work to achieve this end as well.

"The public release of the reports by the DSI and other agencies is an important component of this work, as is the subsequent prosecution of state officials who used extrajudicial violence during the April-May 2010 crackdown," said Hong Kong-based organisation said.

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