Thailand - Amnesty International Report 2007

Human Rights in KINGDOM OF THAILAND

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Head of state: King Bhumibol Adulyadej
Head of government: Surayud Chulanont
Death penalty: retentionist
International Criminal Court: signed

After the 19 September military coup, coup leaders abrogated the 1997 Constitution and issued decrees instituting martial law and restricting the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. Martial law was lifted in 41 provinces in December but remained in place in 35 border provinces. Violence continued in the mainly Muslim southern provinces. Armed groups bombed, beheaded or shot Muslim and Buddhist civilians, including monks, teachers and members of the security forces.

The authorities arbitrarily detained people and failed to investigate human rights abuses. Two human rights defenders were killed and others, particularly in the south, were at risk of intimidation, threats and attacks. Torture and ill-treatment continued to be reported. Almost 900 people remained under sentence of death. No executions were known to have taken place. Migrant workers were not able to exercise their basic labour rights. Hmong asylum-seekers were forcibly returned by the authorities to Laos.

Background

Mass demonstrations in Bangkok protesting against the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra began in February, and continued for several months. Protesters condemned alleged widespread financial irregularities during his administration. Thaksin Shinawatra called for April elections, which were won by his Thai Rak Thai party and boycotted by the major opposition parties. The results were nullified in May by the Constitutional Court and new elections were scheduled to take place in November. In September Thaksin Shinawatra was deposed while abroad by the military-led Council for Democratic Reform (CDR), led by Army Commander-in-Chief Sondhi Boonyaratkalin, in a bloodless coup. The 1997 Constitution was abrogated and an interim one, providing for the drafting of a new constitution, a referendum and elections, was promulgated in October. Four officials of the deposed government were briefly detained in the aftermath of the coup.

In October the CDR appointed General Surayud Chulanont as Interim Prime Minister and renamed itself the Council for National Security, retaining key decision-making powers over government appointments, including the National Legislative Assembly (the interim legislature) and in the constitution drafting process.

In December co-ordinated bomb attacks in Bangkok resulted in the deaths of three people and injuries of 40 others. No one claimed responsibility.

Legal developments

Article 3 of the Interim Constitution provides that "human dignity, rights, liberties, and equality? as well as Thailand's existing international obligations" shall be protected, but does not specify which rights and how they would be protected. The CDR Announcement 10 placed restrictions on the media; some 300 community radio stations were closed and some Internet sites blocked. Announcement 15 prohibited political parties from meeting or conducting other political activities. Announcement 7 banned political gatherings of more than five people. In November the government announced it would lift the ban but it is not clear if this was officially revoked. The security forces did not take any action against demonstrators.

The Emergency Decree, promulgated by the cabinet in July 2005, remained in force in the three mainly Muslim southern provinces. Its provisions included detention without charge or trial for up to 30 days, other forms of administrative detention, and the use of unofficial detention centres.

Conflict in the south

Some 1900 people were killed in the last three years in ongoing violence in the Songkla, Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat Provinces in the south. Drive-by shootings, bombings, and beheadings by armed groups continued throughout the year on an almost daily basis. The armed groups responsible did not identify themselves. The new government announced a major policy shift towards solving the crisis peacefully. However, violence by insurgents continued.

In January the discovery of the bodies of 300 unidentified people in unmarked graves was announced amid allegations that some might be victims of enforced disappearances. According to preliminary forensic statements some had not died of natural causes. Forensic identification of the bodies had not been completed by the end of the year.

In June the National Reconciliation Commission, appointed by the Thaksin Shinawatra government in 2005 to help resolve the crisis in the south, submitted its final report. Recommendations included making the local Bahasa dialect, spoken by Muslims, a working language.

Under provisions of the Emergency Decree, scores of people were detained for 30 days without charge or trial at the Yala Police Training School and in military camps, denied access to lawyers, and some were tortured or otherwise ill-treated during interrogation. In November the authorities announced that they would stop using a "blacklist", which had been used as the basis to arrest people or coerce them to attend residential camps at military facilities for between one and four weeks, in what amounted to arbitrary detention.

In October the government re-established the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre, abolished by Thaksin Shinawatra in 2002, to co-ordinate government efforts to quell the violence in the south.

In early November the new Prime Minister, General Surayud Chulanont, publicly apologized for the deaths of 85 Muslims caused by the security forces during the October 2004 demonstrations at Tak Bai police station in Narathiwat Province, in the south of the country. However, no security personnel were brought to justice in connection with the deaths. The Attorney General announced that cases would be dropped against 58 protesters charged with illegal gathering and public disturbance following the demonstrations, and a court ruled that compensation would be provided to the families of the 78 protesters who were crushed to death while being transported in army trucks from the demonstrations. However, they signed an agreement that they would not pursue any other legal forms of redress. A further court case for compensation brought by the families of the other seven victims was pending at the end of the year.

• In October, Muhammad Dunai Tanyeeno, a Narathiwat village leader, who was helping the 2004 Tak Bai victims (see above) seek access to justice, was shot dead after attempting to bring some of the victims to meet the Fourth Army commander.

Abuses by armed groups

In September, five people were killed in a series of bomb explosions in Hat Yai, Songkla Province, by insurgents. In October insurgents beheaded a Burmese migrant worker in Pattani Province and in December they shot dead two teachers and then burned their bodies.

In November, after two local villagers were killed and houses were burned, reportedly by insurgents, over 200 mostly Buddhist civilians from Bannag Sata and Than Tho Districts, Yala Province, sought refuge in a Buddhist temple. Also in November some Buddhist monks in Narathiwat Province suspended their alms rounds in villages because of fear of attacks. Schools in many southern districts were closed for security reasons.

Torture and ill-treatment

In December Charnchai Promthongchai died in custody in Mae Hong Son Province after having reportedly been beaten to death by soldiers.

Impunity

Section 17 of the Emergency Decree provides immunity from criminal and civil liability, as well as from disciplinary measures, for officials acting under the decree. No one was brought to justice for excessive use of force and possible extrajudicial executions when security forces opened fire on armed Muslim groups in April 2004, killing over 100 people. The shootings were in retaliation for an attack by the armed groups on government facilities, in which five members of the security forces were killed. Article 37 of the Interim Constitution provides for legal immunity for the CDR leaders and those ordered by them to "mete out punishment and other administrative acts".

In January a police officer was found guilty of coercing Somchai Neelapaijit, a Muslim human rights lawyer, into his car in March 2004 in Bangkok. Somchai Neelapaijit has not been seen or heard of since. The police officer was sentenced to three years' imprisonment; however, he was released on bail and returned to his job.

The enforced disappearances of more than 20 people since the escalation of violence in the south were not properly investigated by the police. The Justice Ministry announced in November that it would investigate some of the killings of over 2,500 people during the 2003 "drugs war" and call on families of the victims to file cases.

Refugees and migrants

In November, 53 Hmong asylum-seekers were forcibly returned to Laos from Nong Khai Province. Some 7,000 Lao Hmong asylum-seekers remained in a camp in Phetchabun Province in poor conditions. Around 400, including children, were detained in several detention facilities also in poor conditions.

Camps on the Thai-Myanmar border housed some 150,000 refugees. Since 2004 over 24,000 Burmese refugees were resettled in third countries. Some 740,000 Burmese migrant workers renewed their registration permits with the government, but tens of thousands of others worked illegally.

AI country reports/visits

Report

• Thailand: "If you want peace, work for justice" (AI Index: ASA 39/001/2006)

Visits

AI delegates visited Thailand in July and December.