Thai security forces pursuing a counter-insurgency campaign in the country’s violence-plagued southern provinces systematically engage in torture and other ill-treatment, Amnesty International revealed in a report released today. The organization called on the Royal Thai government to crack down on such practices immediately and to ensure accountability for any security forces engaged in torture.
The report, Thailand: Torture in the southern counter-insurgency, documents people 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. Survivors of torture told Amnesty International 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. Amnesty International established that at least four people died as a result of torture.
“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.
Amnesty International’s research in the southern provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, Songkhla, and Yala established that Thai security forces have systematically relied on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in their efforts to obtain information, to extract confessions to compensate for poor intelligence and evidence-gathering, and to intimidate detainees and their communities into withholding or withdrawing support for the insurgents.
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 — both geographically and among the various security forces — that it cannot be dismissed as the work of a few errant subordinates in isolated instances.
“Many of those who told us about their terrible experiences, and who continue to be traumatised by them, did so to prevent it from happening to others,” said Donna Guest. “The government must stop torture and bring the torturers to justice.”
The research in the report focused on incidents between March 2007 and May 2008. 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 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.
Amnesty International urges the Thai authorities to immediately close down all unofficial detention centres. The organization also calls on the Thai authorities to amend the Emergency Decree of 2005, which provides much of the legal framework for the counter-insurgency operations, to permit detainees access to family members, lawyers, and medical personnel, and to remove the immunity for officials who violate human rights in the course of carrying out their official duties.
Background 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.
On 4 January 2004, Muslim insurgents raided an army depot in Narathiwat Province, stealing hundreds of guns and killing four soldiers, signalling a return to violence after years of dormancy. Now into its sixth year, this new phase of violence and counter-insurgency has been marked by widespread and escalating human rights abuses by both sides. The current violence has led to at least 3,500 deaths so far, with the number of total deaths increasing each year through at least 2007. 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.
Since 2005 insurgents in the area have engaged in serious human rights abuses such as bombings of civilian areas, beheadings, and drive-by shootings of both Buddhist and Muslim security forces and civilians, including local officials seen as cooperating with the government. The insurgents have targeted state schools and teachers, and tried to frighten Buddhist residents away from the area.
In November 2007 the Royal Thai government ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). This convention has been authoritatively interpreted to state that “torture may in fact be of a systematic character without resulting from the direct intention of a Government. It may be the consequence of factors which the Government has difficulty in controlling, and its existence may indicate a discrepancy between policy as determined by the central Government and its implementation by the local administration. Inadequate legislation which in practice allows room for the use of torture may also add to the systematic nature of this practice.”
Thailand has passed no legislation specifically criminalizing torture or implementing the CAT provisions not already covered by existing Thai law. Moreover, the 2005 Emergency Decree in force in the south provides for impunity for officials who violate the law “while acting in good faith”. This provision effectively facilitates torture going undetected and unpunished.
Amnesty International received information about torture taking place are: (in Narathiwat province) Pi-Leng Camp, Wat Suan Tham Special Taskforce Camp 39 (until mid-2008), Chulaporn Military Base, Ba Ngo Aor Military Camp, Rueso District Police Station; (in Pattani province) Wat Changhai Battalion 24 Army Camp, Plakalu Song Battalion Army Camp, Banglan Army Camp, the Police Coordination Centre, Wat Lak Muang Army Camp, Nong Chik Police Station; (in Yala province) Region 9 Police Training Academy, Chor Kor/Taskforce 11, Banglang para-military ranger Camp, Special Taskforce Camp 39 (since mid-2008), para-military ranger Regiment 41; (in Songkhla province) Rattanapon Camp, Special Forces Unit 43; (in Chumporn Province) Ket-udomsak Army Camp; (in Ranong province) Rattana-Rangsang Army Camp; and (in Surattani province) Wipawadee-Rangsit Army Camp.