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Thai security forces systematically torture in southern counter-insurgency

 Thai soldiers patrol in a pickup truck, Yala province, southern Thailand

Thai soldiers patrol in a pickup truck, Yala province, southern Thailand

© AP GraphicsBank

13 January 2009

Thai security forces in the country's southern provinces are systematically engaging in torture and other ill-treatment, according to a new Amnesty International report.

Released today, Thailand: Torture in the southern counter-insurgency, says that people are being brutally beaten, burnt with candles, buried up to their necks in the ground, subjected to electric shocks and exposed to intense heat or cold. Amnesty International gathered information about at least four people who died as a result of torture.

These acts of abuse are being committed as security forces pursue a counter-insurgency campaign in the violence-plagued provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, Songkhla, and Yala.

"The insurgents in southern Thailand have engaged in brutal acts, but nothing justifies the security forces' reliance on torture. Torture is absolutely illegal and, as the situation in southern Thailand proves, alienates the local population," said Donna Guest, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific Programme.

The prevalence of torture in Thailand has decreased slightly since the widely-publicized death of a detainee in custody, probably as a result of torture, in March 2008. However, torture and other ill-treatment, and the lack of accountability for torturers, remains sufficiently frequent and widespread that it cannot be dismissed as the work of a few errant subordinates in isolated instances.

Amnesty International called on the new government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to act immediately to end torture and provide accountability for victims. Abhisit recently promised to deliver justice as a means of resolving the long-simmering insurgency in the country’s southern provinces.

The violence in southern Thailand reflects the longstanding disenfranchisement of the area's population, which is predominantly Malay in ethnicity and language and Muslim in religion.

Since the determination of Thailand's southern border with Malaysia (then Malaya) in the early 1900s, the region has been plagued by rebellion and insurgency.

The area is relatively one of the poorest and least developed in Thailand. The population has long resented efforts at assimilation by the country's Thai Buddhist central government and majority. The growth of militant religious ideologies in the region has also contributed to the rise of the currently active insurgent groups.

Violence returned after years of dormancy, when Muslim insurgents raided an army depot in Narathiwat Province, stealing hundreds of guns and killing four soldiers on 4 January 2004. The current violence has led to at least 3,500 deaths so far.

In March 2008, government statistics showed that 66 percent of those killed in the south since 2004 were civilians. Just over half of those killed were Muslims.

Amnesty International's report focuses on incidents between March 2007 and May 2008. The organization obtained testimonies concerning the treatment in detention of at least 34 people during that time. Thirteen torture survivors were interviewed directly, as were relatives and witnesses to the torture or ill-treatment of the others.

Survivors said that the most common torture techniques they faced were beatings, being kicked or stomped on and having plastic bags placed over their heads until they nearly suffocated.

Thai security forces have systematically relied on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in their efforts to:

  • obtain information
  • extract confessions to compensate for poor intelligence and evidence-gathering
  • intimidate detainees and their communities into withholding or withdrawing support for the insurgents.

Amnesty International received numerous reports of torture and ill-treatment at Ingkharayuthboriharn Army Camp in Pattani province, indicating that Thai authorities need to pay special attention to ending abusive practices at the base.

The organization has also received credible information about unofficial detention centres where detainees are often held without access to the outside world and are thus particularly vulnerable to torture and other ill-treatment.

Thai security authorities officially acknowledge only two detention facilities designated for suspected insurgents. Reports suggest that there are at least 21 other unofficial detention sites being used.

Amnesty International has urged the Thai authorities to immediately close down all unofficial detention centres. It has also called on the Thai authorities to amend the Thaksin-era Emergency Decree of 2005, which provides much of the legal framework for the counter-insurgency operations.

These amendments would permit detainees access to family members, lawyers, and medical personnel, and remove the immunity for officials who violate human rights in the course of carrying out their official duties.

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