THAILAND: “Ingrained culture of impunity” denies rights, AHRC says

(December 10, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka Guardian) A “deep-seated, ingrained culture of impunity that spans the state security forces, judiciary and civil service” is continuing to block the emergence of a human rights-respecting culture in Thailand, the Asian Human Rights Commission said today in its annual State of Human Rights in Asia report.
The 16-page Thailand report, entitled “Consolidated internal security state, complaisant judiciary” synthesizes and analyses a number of key human rights issues from throughout the year, including the criminalizing of victims of torture, persecution of human rights defenders, and constrictions of free speech.
“The Asian Human Rights Commission has for some time been warning the international human rights community that Thailand has been steadily regressing towards a new type of anti-human rights and anti-rule-of-law system in which the values associated with these concepts are advertised widely at home and abroad but in which state institutions are not only emptied of those values, but in fact are inverted to serve precisely the opposite ends from what they purport to serve,” the AHRC said.
“The elections of 2011 do not appear to have brought an end to the progress of this project, although they have perhaps slowed it,” it added.
Wong Kai Shing, director of the Hong Kong-based regional rights group, said that the persecution through the courts of people who actually deserved the protection of the law was one of the particularly alarming features of the human rights situation in Thailand during the year.
“That human rights defenders like Chiranuch Premchaiporn and Jintana Kaewkhao are treated before the courts of Thailand as criminal offenders is a damning indictment on the country’s judiciary,” Wong said, referring to two of the cases highlighted in the report.
“The conviction of torture victims for making complaints against the perpetrators of torture and their accomplices is particularly outrageous,” he added, referring to the case of a client of forcibly disappeared rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit.
The report also points to the endorsement by the Constitutional Court of closed trial on internal security justifications.
“With cases like these passing through the courts, it is hard to look on Thailand’s judicial system as anything but a system for the denial of human rights rather than for their defence,” Wong stressed.
The AHRC in its report also drew attention to the increasing number of cases of lese-majesty in Thailand and their negative consequences for freedom of speech and human rights generally.
“The defendants in these cases are treated especially egregiously, and are deserving of special attention and support from human rights groups at home and abroad,” Wong said.
The report is available online at here .
Some extracts from the report follow.
THAILAND: Consolidating internal security state, complaisant judiciary
The first half of 2011 saw the start of the trial of independent news site webmaster Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn, a devastating appeal outcome foreclosing justice in the case of the disappearance of human rights lawyer Mr. Somchai Neelaphaijit, and difficulties faced by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (TRCT) in their attempt to investigate the political violence of April and May 2010.
Politically, for many the central event of the year was the overwhelming victory of Yingluck Shinawatra and the Pheu Thai Party in the 3 July 2011 elections. While it is too early to definitively assess the Pheu Thai Party’s progress on human rights, early signs are not positive, with continued arrests and prosecutions for alleged lese-majesty slow progress towards accountability for the violence of April-May 2010, and a continued failure to protect the rights of victims and survivors of torture and other forms of state violence.
Yet, in the assessment of the AHRC, the initial failure of the Yingluck government to make meaningful changes in the status of human rights in Thailand is less about the individual government’s policies and instead reflective of a deep-seated, ingrained culture of impunity that spans the state security forces, judiciary, and civil service, all of which operate with tacit approval from many quarters of the civilian population.
The criminalization of victimhood
Documented instances of the use of torture by the Thai state security forces, including the army, police, and Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) date to the period of 1970s Cold War counterinsurgency in Thailand. Torture has been used both during formal conflict and as part of routine law enforcement. Within the last decade, as the Asian Human Rights Commission has repeatedly noted, since the declaration of martial law in the three provinces of Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat in southern Thailand in January 2004, there has been a sharp resurgence and expansion of the use of torture.
Of even greater concern, during 2011 the prosecution and conviction of a torture victim who spoke out against his torturers indicates an increasingly proactive approach to the production of impunity across the state security forces and the judiciary in response to allegations of gross human rights violations. On 10 August 2011, the Criminal Court in Bangkok sentenced Mr. Suderueman Malae to two years in prison for having spoken out against his alleged torturers.
The conviction of Mr. Suderueman by the Criminal Court in this case suggests a backpedaling of support for victims of torture in Thailand. If a victim of torture or other gross abuse cannot even state what happened to them under oath and in a court of law, on the questioning of a legal professional, then what prospect exists for open debate or complaint about such widespread and deeply institutionalized abuses?
Impunity for the torturers of Suderueman required, to begin with, the thwarting of any effective investigation of both the abduction and presumed killing of his lawyer, Somchai Neelaphaijit, and the acquittal of the accused in that case. Since the case attracted huge domestic and international interest, to give the appearance of some sort of justice being done, the court reached a compromise ruling in which it acknowledged police involvement and convicted one of the five accused of a minor offence.
Persecution of Human Rights Defenders
The situation of human rights defenders (HRDs) in Thailand has long been precarious in Thailand. Speaking out against state or private interest leaves one vulnerable to a range of abuses, including assassination, which was particularly prevalent during the years of the government of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. More recently, officials have increasingly turned to forms of legal and quasi-legal harassment of rights defenders, including criminal prosecution.
During 2011, the trial of Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn, web director of Prachatai.com, a news site that has provided alternative news and a platform for critical discussion and dissent since 2004, began. She has been accused of insulting the monarchy and is on trial under article 112 and the Computer Crimes Act of 2007 not for anything she wrote or said, but for allegedly not removing the comments of others quickly enough from the Prachatai.com webboard.
The prosecution of Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn is of concern within the broad frame of the ongoing constriction of freedom of speech in Thailand and increased prosecutions of citizens for allegedly committing the crime of lese-majesty. Yet it is also deeply concerning within the context of prosecutions of other kinds of human rights defenders. These prosecutions can be seen as an attempt to criminalize dissent and prevent citizens from improving and changing their society.
In an exceptional example of this, in October 2011, Ms. Jintana Kaewkhao, a human rights defender in Prachuab Khiri Khan, was sentenced to four months in prison resulting from a Supreme Court decision in a case that has been in process since 2004. This decision, and the process by which it was reached over the past eight years, indicates that the very right of citizens to exercise their rights and freedoms to protest and defend their communities from harmful environmental consequences is under threat in Thailand. Like the case of the conviction of Mr. Suderueman for speaking out against his torturers, this conviction has foreclosed, rather than supported justice and the consolidation of human rights in Thailand.
Article 112 and constriction of speech
Since the 19 September 2006 coup, there has been an exponential expansion in the use of article 112 and the 2007 Computer Crimes Act to intimidate dissidents and constrict speech more generally.
While the case of Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn is the case most widely followed internationally, in 2011 there have been a number of other significant sets of charges brought and prosecutions completed. In March 2011, Tanthawut Taweewarodomkul, was sentenced to 13 years in prison for allegedly violating both laws in material posted to Norporchorusa.com. In May 2011 Joe Gordon, a Thai-American man, was charged under both laws for allegedly posting a link to a Thai translation of the English-language book, “The King Never Smiles”, by Paul Handley, on his website. In late November 2011, the trial of Mr. Somyos Prueksakasemsuk, long-time labour rights activist and editor of Voice of Taksin and Red Power magazines, will begin. These are only several of many known, and perhaps many more unknown cases, of people charged under either article 112 and/or the Computer Crimes Act. In most article 112 and Computer Crimes Act cases, the court refuses to grant bail, and so those charged must also endure many months of pre-trial conviction.
With particular concern to how the courts have gone beyond their duty to become a proactive space of the restriction of rights, the Asian Human Rights Commission has also sought to highlight a recent Constitutional Court decision in the case or Ms. Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul.
By placing the emphasis on articles 177 and 178 of the Criminal Procedure Code, rather than the issue of what constitutes national security, the Constitutional Court ruled that trials held behind closed doors are absolutely fine. This is clear, deliberate and explicit step backwards for human rights and justice in Thailand. In the case of Ms. Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul, it is not only that the court has failed to be a site in which human rights can be secured, but it has become a site in which human rights are actively violated and justice is proactively foreclosed. As such, the ruling in this case signifies the larger condition of human rights for people in Thailand generally under the revitalized internal security state.

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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