Human rights in Thailand

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Thailand was among the first nations to sign the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights[1] of 1948 and seemed committed to safeguarding Human Rights in Thailand. In practice, the reality has been that the powerful can abuse the human rights of their subjects with impunity. From 1977 to 1988, Amnesty International reported that there "...were 1,436 alleged cases of arbitrary detention, 58 forced disappearances, 148 torture [sic] and 345 extrajudicial killings in Thailand....The authorities investigated and whitewashed each case."[2] Amnesty International's Amnesty International Report 2017/18; The State of the World's Human Rights demonstrates that not much has changed in the interim.[3]:358-361

Constitutional guarantees

The 1997 constitution was abrogated in September 2006 following the military coup. The military regime imposed an interim constitution which was in effect until the 2007 version was approved a year later by referendum. The 2007 constitution was partially abrogated by the military regime that came to power in May 2014 and replaced by an interim constitution in effect until the new constitution was approved in 2016.

Many new rights were introduced in the 1997 constitution. These included the right to free education, the rights of traditional communities, and the right to peacefully protest coups and other extra-constitutional means of acquiring power, the rights of children, the elderly, rights of the handicapped, and equality of the genders. Freedom of information, the right to public health and education, and consumer rights were also recognized. A total of 40 rights, compared to only nine rights in the constitution of 1932, were recognized in the 1997 constitution.[4]

The current (2016) constitution, drafted by a body appointed by the military junta (NCPO), states in section 4: "The human dignity, rights, liberty and equality of the people shall be protected".[5] This is unchanged from the 2007 constitution.[6] Sections 26 to 63 set out an extensive range of specific rights in such areas as criminal justice, education, non-discrimination, religion, and freedom of expression.

The 2007 constitution reinstated much of the extensive catalogue of rights explicitly recognized in the People's Constitution of 1997. That constitution outlined the right to freedom of speech, freedom of press, peaceful assembly, association, religion, and movement within the country and abroad.

Infringement of human rights

The U.S. Department of State has registered concerns in several areas.[7]

Human trafficking

Human trafficking is a major issue in Thailand. This includes misleading and kidnapping men from Cambodia by traffickers and selling them into illegal fishing boats that trawl the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea. These men are promised better paid jobs but instead forced to work as sea slaves as much as 3 years.[8] Numerous international news organizations including The Guardian, AP, and The New York Times have extensively covered the topic; The Associated Press, in particular, has won prominent awards for their coverage (although not without controversy for overstating their role in combating trafficking). Children trafficking is also another major issue in Thailand forcing kidnapped children as young as four to use as sex slaves in major cities like Bangkok and Phuket.[citation needed] Such activities are especially rife in rural areas of Thailand.[9]
Instances of forced labor in the fish and shrimp industry as well as child labour in the pornography industry are still observed in Thailand and have been reported in the 2013 U.S. Department of Labor's report on the worst forms of child labor[10] and in the 2014 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor.

Rights of the press and right to assembly

In the wake of the 2006 and 2014 coup d'états, the right to free speech, association, and freedom of movement were seriously eroded. The military governments implemented a ban on political meetings and prohibited media criticism. Political activities of all types were banned.

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) noted that Thailand's media environment—prior to the coup considered one of the freest and most vibrant in Asia—had quickly deteriorated following the military ousting of Thaksin Shinawatra. It noted the closure of around 300 community radio stations in Thai provinces, the intermittent blocking of cable news channels (particularly whenever news on Thaksin and criticism of the coup came up), and the suspension of some Thai websites devoted to discussing the implications of military intervention to Thai democracy. SEAPA also noted that while there seemed to be no crackdown on journalists, and while foreign and local reporters seemed free to roam, interview, and report on the coup as they saw fit, self-censorship was a certain issue in Thai newsrooms.

British journalist, Suzanne Buchanan, has reported on the recent string of tourist deaths and sexual assaults in Ko Tao. Though she has not been to Thailand in over two years, she is wanted by police who say she is peddling fake news.[11]

South Thailand insurgency

Problems have been reported in the southern provinces related to the South Thailand insurgency. Some 180 persons are reported to have died there while in custody in 2004. In a particularly high-profile case, Muslim human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit was reportedly harassed, threatened, and finally forcibly disappeared in March 2004 following his allegations of torture by state security forces.[12] In 2006, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra stated that he believed that Somchai was dead and that state security forces appeared to be responsible.[13] Five policemen were eventually charged in Somchai's death, though the trial only resulted in one conviction that was overturned on appeal in March 2011.[14] The verdict was denounced by the Asian Human Rights Commission,[15] and Somchai's wife Angkhana declared her intention to continue to appeal the case to the Thai Supreme Court.[14]

2003 war on drugs

The government's antidrug war in 2003 resulted in more than 2,500 extrajudicial killings of suspected drug traffickers.[16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28][29][30] Prison conditions and some provincial immigration detention facilities are characterized as poor. In 2004 more than 1,600 persons died in prison or police custody, 131 as a result of police actions.

The Nation reported on 27 November 2007:

"Of 2,500 deaths in the government's war on drugs in 2003, a fact-finding panel has found that more than half was not involved in drug at all. At a brainstorming session, a representative from the Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) Tuesday disclosed that as many as 1,400 people were killed and labelled as drug suspects despite the fact that they had no link to drugs....Senior public prosecutor Kunlapon Ponlawan said it was not difficult to investigate extra-judicial killings carried out by police officers as the trigger-pullers usually confessed."[28][29]

The 24 January 2008 edition of The Economist reported:

...a panel set up last year by the outgoing junta recently concluded the opposite: over half of those killed in 2003 had no links to the drugs trade. The panel blamed the violence on a government 'shoot-to-kill' policy based on flawed blacklists. But far from leading to the prosecutions of those involved, its findings have been buried. The outgoing interim prime minister, Surayud Chulanont, took office vowing to right Mr Thaksin's wrongs. Yet this week he said there was insufficient evidence to take legal action over the killings. It is easy to see why the tide has turned. Sunai Phasuk, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, a lobbying group, says that the panel's original report named the politicians who egged on the gunmen. But after the PPP won last month's elections, those names were omitted.[30]

The New York Times reported on 8 April 2003:

Since the death of 9-year-old Chakraphan, there have been frequent reports in the Thai press of summary executions and their innocent victims. There was the 16-month-old girl who was shot dead along with her mother, Raiwan Khwanthongyen. There was the pregnant woman, Daranee Tasanawadee, who was killed in front of her two young sons. There was the 8-year-old boy, Jirasak Unthong, who was the only witness to the killing of his parents as they headed home from a temple fair. There was Suwit Baison, 23, a cameraman for a local television station, who fell to his knees in tears in front of Mr. Thaksin and begged for an investigation into the killing of his parents. His stepfather had once been arrested for smoking marijuana, Mr. Suwit said. When the police offered to drop the charge if he would admit to using methamphetamines, he opted instead to pay the $100 fine for marijuana use. Both parents were shot dead as they returned home from the police station on a motorbike. Mr. Suwit said 10 other people in his neighborhood had also been killed after surrendering to the police.[17]


The Constitution of Thailand prohibits acts of torture, but the Thai legal system has no definition of torture and torture is not recognized as an offence by Thailand's legal system.[31][32]

In a report entitled, "Make Him Speak by Tomorrow": Torture and other Ill-Treatment in Thailand[33] that was to have been formally released in Bangkok on 28 September 2016, Amnesty International accused the Thai police and military of 74 incidents of brutality. An Amnesty International press conference to unveil the report was halted by Thai authorities who cited Thai labour laws prohibiting visiting foreigners from working in Thailand.[34][35] The three foreign speakers were Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Yubal Ginbar, a lawyer working for the rights group, and Laurent Meillan, acting Southeast Asia representative for the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights.[36] The Thai government denied the torture allegations. The government spokesman, General Sansern Kaewkamnerd, emphasized that, "Our investigations into such allegations have shown no indication of torture, I have seen no indication of torture and the Thai people have seen no indication of torture,..." Jeremy Laurence, a representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) had been scheduled to speak at the press conference.[37] "This incident is another striking illustration of a new pattern of harassment of human rights defenders documenting torture in Thailand," he said.[38]

Thailand has been a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Torture since 2 October 2007. Section 28 of the Thai 2016 constitution states, "A torture, [sic] brutal act or punishment by cruel or inhumane means shall be prohibited."[5]

A bill to prevent torture and enforced disappearance will be put before Thailand's National Legislative Assembly (NLA) in late-December 2018. The bill would criminalise torture and enforced disappearances, including during wars and political unrest. The draft law specifies that the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) be responsible for investigating cases of enforced disappearance and torture. Only in events where DSI officials are accused of such crimes would police be assigned to investigate. Imprisonment for five to 25 years, and/or a fine of 100,000 to 300,000 baht would be levied on guilty parties. Were the bill to become a law, every government agency restricting people's rights would be required to maintain a database of people whose rights are restricted, actions taken, and the disposition of their cases.[39]

Forced disappearances

According to Amnesty Thailand, at least 59 human-rights defenders have been victims of forced disappearance since 1998.[39] Among those who disappeared:

Burmese refugees

Burmese refugees in Thailand can stay in one of the refugee camps along the border with Burma, which protect them from arrest and summary removal to Burma but they lack freedom to move or work. Or, they can live and work outside the camps, but typically without recognized legal status of any kind, leaving them at risk of arrest and deportation. From 2005 to 2011, more than 76,000 Burmese refugees were resettled from the border camps to third countries, though the total number of camp residents has remained at about 140,000. [44][45]

Camp refugees who venture out of the camps are regarded by the Thai government as illegal aliens and are subject to arrest. Thai police or paramilitaries regularly apprehend camp residents and either return them to camp if the refugees pay sufficient bribes, or send them to one of Thailand’s Immigration Detention Centers and then deport them to Burma.[46][47] Refugees in the camps find themselves subject to abuse and exploitation at the hands of other refugees. Refugees working as camp security as well as camp leaders and camp residents with hidden connections to ethnic armed groups inside Burma all wield power in the camps.[48][49]

See also


  1. ^ "Human Rights: UDHR: Universal Declaration of Human Rights". Concordian International School. Retrieved 2018-11-24.
  2. ^ Baker, Chris (2018-11-23). "Getting Away with It" (Book review). Bangkok Post. Retrieved 2018-11-24.
  3. ^ Amnesty International Report 2017/18; The State of the World's Human Rights (PDF). London: Amnesty International. 2018. ISBN 9780862104993. Retrieved 24 November 2018.
  4. ^ Thanet Aphornsuvan, The Search for Order: Constitutions and Human Rights in Thai Political History Archived February 26, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, 2001 Symposium: Constitutions and Human Rights in a Global Age: An Asia Pacific perspective
  5. ^ a b "Draft Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand 2016 Unofficial English Translation" (PDF). Office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Thailand (. United Nations. June 2016. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-08-16. Retrieved 29 September 2016.
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on May 15, 2012. Retrieved January 23, 2013.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) 2007 Constitution (unofficial translation)
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-10-02. Retrieved 2012-12-05.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ "Forced to Fish: Cambodia's sea slaves" Archived November 18, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. The Guardian Weekly, Jan. 30, 2009.
  9. ^ " New York Review", 25 June 2008
  10. ^ Thailand, 2013 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor Archived April 5, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ "Thai Paradise Gains Reputation as 'Death Island'". Retrieved 2018-11-04.
  12. ^ "Missing Thai lawyer 'harassed'". BBC News. 9 August 2005. Retrieved 24 April 2011.
  13. ^ "Missing Thai lawyer 'harassed'". BBC News. 13 January 2006. Retrieved 24 April 2011.
  14. ^ a b "Policeman acquitted in Somchai case". Bangkok Post. 12 March 2011. Retrieved 24 April 2011.
  15. ^ "THAILAND: Verdict on Somchai's case--his wife, daughter could not be plaintiffs; not enough evidence to convict accused". Asian Human Rights Commission. 17 March 2011. Retrieved 24 April 2011.
  16. ^ "Thailand War on Drugs Turns Murderous, 600 Killed This Month -- Human Rights Groups Denounce Death Squads, Executions" Archived August 24, 2006, at the Wayback Machine. Drug War Chronicle, 21 Feb 2003.
  17. ^ a b "A Wave of Drug Killings Is Linked to Thai Police". By Seth Mydans. April 8, 2003. New York Times. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2008-04-10.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  18. ^ Amnesty International report: Thailand: Grave developments - Killings and other abuses Archived July 26, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ Human Rights Watch. Detailed report: Thailand: Not Enough Graves: IV. Human Rights Abuses and the War on Drugs Archived November 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ Matthew Z Wheeler. "From Marketplace to Battlefield: Counting the Costs of Thailand's Drug War." "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-10-23. Retrieved 2008-02-15.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) [1][permanent dead link] "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2008-02-15.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link). May 28, 2003. ICWA Letters Archived October 23, 2013, at the Wayback Machine. Institute of Current World Affairs.
  21. ^ "Thailand: Not Smiling on Rights" Archived July 25, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. July 18, 2005. Asian Centre for Human Rights. See page 24, the section called "Killings in the war against drugs".
  22. ^ "US-Thailand's 'License To Kill'. 2274 Extra-Judicial Killings In 90 Days". The Akha Journal of the Golden Triangle. By Matthew McDaniel. Vol. 1. No. 2. October 2003. Relevant section of journal 2: 2p6.pdf Archived March 3, 2016, at the Wayback Machine - Cover and first part of journal 2: 2p1.pdf Archived March 3, 2016, at the Wayback Machine - Link list for all parts of the journals Archived April 18, 2016, at the Wayback Machine.
  23. ^ Timeline of Thailand's "War on Drugs" Archived November 2, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. July 7, 2004. Human Rights Watch.
  24. ^ "Letter from Asia; She Tilts Against Power, but Don't Call Her Quixotic." Archived October 18, 2015, at the Wayback Machine By Jane Perlez. July 7, 2004. New York Times.
  25. ^ Thailand 2003. Extrajudicial drug-war killings of innocent people Archived December 6, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. Photo gallery. Press/media links, and human rights reports.
  26. ^ "Institutionalised torture, extrajudicial killings & uneven application of law in Thailand" Archived May 21, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. April 2005. See Annex 5 for a "Partial list of persons reported killed during the 'war on drugs' (revised)." Asian Legal Resource Centre. From Vol. 04 - No. 02: "Special Report: Rule of Law vs. Rule of Lords in Thailand" Archived September 15, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  27. ^ Bangkok Post, August 3, 2007. "Kanit to chair extrajudicial killings probe" Archived October 6, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  28. ^ a b "Most of those killed in war on drug not involved in drug" Archived 2008-02-01 at the Wayback Machine. November 27, 2007. The Nation[dead link]. [2]
  29. ^ a b "Southeast Asia: Most Killed in Thailand's 2003 Drug War Not Involved With Drugs, Panel Finds" Archived September 28, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. November 30, 2007. Drug War Chronicle.
  30. ^ a b "Thailand's drug wars. Back on the offensive" Archived April 1, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. January 24, 2008. The Economist.
  31. ^ Concluding observations on the initial report of Thailand. United Nations Committee Against Torture. 20 June 2014. p. 2. Retrieved 13 March 2017.
  32. ^ "Thailand leaves legal loophole for torture, disappearances – UN". Asian Correspondent. 1 March 2017. Retrieved 25 March 2017.
  33. ^ Make Him Speak by Tomorrow": Torture and other Ill-Treatment in Thailand. London: Amnesty International. 2016.
  34. ^ "Thailand: Torture victims must be heard" (Press release). Amnesty International. 28 September 2016. Retrieved 29 September 2016.
  35. ^ Ives, Mike (28 September 2016). "Under Pressure, Amnesty International Cancels Briefing on Torture in Thailand". New York Times. Retrieved 29 September 2016.
  36. ^ Constant, Max (29 September 2016). "Thailand: Report on torture by junta 'still unverified'". Anadolu Agency. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  37. ^ Cochrane, Liam; Vimonsuknopparat, Supattra (28 September 2016). "Thailand authorities shut down Amnesty International torture talk with threats of arrest". ABC (Australia). Retrieved 29 September 2016.
  38. ^ Holmes, Oliver (28 September 2016). "Amnesty calls off launch of Thai torture report after police warning". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 September 2016.
  39. ^ a b Saengpassa, Chularat (2018-12-05). "Bill on torture to go before NLA". The Nation. Retrieved 2018-12-05.
  40. ^ Cooper, Zac; Van Buskirk, Caroline; Fernes, Praveena (2017-05-17). "Den Khamlae – The disappearing face of a land rights movement". The Issan Record. Retrieved 2018-12-05.
  41. ^ "Activist goes missing amid land dispute". Bangkok Post. 2016-04-22. Retrieved 2018-12-05.
  42. ^ "Laos/Thailand: Investigate Abduction of Exiled Red Shirt Activist". Human Rights Watch. 2017-08-01. Retrieved 2018-12-30.
  43. ^ Rojanaphruk, Pravit (2018-12-24). "Wife Fears Anti-Monarchist Forced to Disappear in Laos". Khaosod English. Retrieved 2018-12-30.
  44. ^ "Thailand refugees". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved December 23, 2012.
  45. ^ "Thailand". American Refugee Committee. Archived from the original on August 14, 2012. Retrieved December 28, 2012.
  46. ^ "Thailand refugees". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved December 23, 2012.
  47. ^ "Thailand". American Refugee Committee. Archived from the original on August 14, 2012. Retrieved December 28, 2012.
  48. ^ "Thailand". Refugees International. Retrieved December 23, 2012.
  49. ^ "The Refugee Crisis in Myanmar (Burma)". Thai Freedom House. Archived from the original on September 7, 2012. Retrieved December 28, 2012.

Further reading

  • Haberkorn, Tyrell (2018). In Plain Sight; Impunity and Human Rights in Thailand (Hardcover ed.). Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 9780299314408. Retrieved 24 November 2018.

External links

  • Freedom of expression in Thailand - IFEX
  • Asian Human Rights Commission - Thailand homepage
  • Rule of Lords Weekly column on human rights & the rule of law in Thailand and Burma
  • Royal Thai Police catalogue or torture and murder

 This article incorporates public domain material from the Library of Congress Country Studies website

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