Thai academics cry foul over delay in full enforcement of torture, disappearance law
Several academics slammed the Cabinet’s decision to delay the enforcement of four key Articles in the law against torture and forced disappearances, and demanded an immediate House debate on the subject.
Expressing opposition were Thammasat University’s vice rector and legal scholar Prinya Thaewanarumitkul, Cross Culture Foundation chairman Surapol Kongchantuek and president of the Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) Sarawut Pratumrat.
They were responding to the approval of a Cabinet decree on February 14 postponing the enforcement of Articles 22-25 of the Act on Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance. The Articles will now be enforced on October 1 instead of February 22.
Timeline of the Act
The draft law was proposed by the Justice Ministry and approved by the Cabinet on June 23, 2022.
On August 17, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha wrote to House Speaker Chuan Leekpai, seeking cooperation on the speedy passage of the bill.
It was later passed in Parliament and published in the Royal Gazette on October 25, with enforcement scheduled for February 22 this year.
However, on Tuesday, the Cabinet issued an executive decree delaying the enforcement of Articles 22-25 to October 1.
The decree got His Majesty the King’s stamp of approval on Friday and was published in the Royal Gazette on Sunday.
The four delayed Articles and their stipulations are:
• Article 22: State officials are required to make continuous video and audio recordings of the arrest and detention of suspects until they are handed over to interrogating officials or until they are released.
• Article 23: State officials are required to record all information about detainees, including the reasons for arrest or detention, identity, whereabouts and physical conditions of the suspects.
• Article 24: Officials will be required by the court to provide information about the detainees to their relatives or lawyers.
• Article 25: Officials can withhold information about the detainees from the public if the disclosure will violate their privacy, cause harm or inhibit investigation.
Speaking at a press conference, Prinya said this decree should immediately be pulled back and debated upon before the last House meeting is held on February 28.
He said if the decree failed to make its way to the House before February 28, then the government should convene an extraordinary meeting before the House’s tenure expires on March 22.
He added that when the debate is held, voters should find out which parties are pushing for the delay. He said this delay was very harmful to the public because many people could still be tortured and made to disappear in the eight months before the enforcement.
Prinya said he fears the Cabinet will try to buy time until the current House’s tenure expires. This way, the public will have to wait until July, when a new House of Representatives is formed.
Reason for delay ‘unacceptable’
Prinya said the Cabinet issued the decree on grounds that the Royal Thai Police lacked the equipment and personnel required to enforce the law.
“But the law was published on October 25, with a 120-day waiting period. What were those in power doing during these 120 days?” Prinya asked.
At the same press conference, Surapol said this law was good and had been created through public participation.
In fact, he said, Thailand was applauded by the international community for the law, that people had been waiting more than 10 years for.
He added that the delay in the enforcement of these four Articles was unjustified and unconstitutional.
“The decree should be taken up for House debate this week,” Surapol said.
Sarawut, meanwhile, said this delay proves that political officials bowed under the pressure placed by permanent officials.
“Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin and Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam allowed the enforcement to be delayed because the Royal Thai Police claimed it was not ready to enforce the law,” Sarawut said.
He also said that with the law not fully enforced, suspects in the deep South would continue being tortured by police.
‘Delay violates human rights’
Last Wednesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement denouncing the delay of the four key provisions.
“The Thai government keeps finding new reasons not to tackle the serious problems of torture and enforced disappearance in the country,” said Elaine Pearson, HRW’s Asia director. “All along the police and other security officials knew training and equipment would be needed to enforce the new law, but instead they could only come up with excuses.”
The HRW said the Thai government’s decision “will make it extraordinarily difficult to enforce the Act on Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance because officials are not yet required to provide information about detainees or record arrests and interrogations to prevent abuses from taking place”.
It expressed concern that the delay will allow officials to continue to engage in abusive practices that facilitate enforced disappearances, such as the use of secret detention by anti-narcotics units, as well as the secret detention of national security suspects and suspected insurgents in the South.