Thailand: Systematic torture used by government forces in the south, new report

Burying people to their necks and near suffocation with plastic bags used in counter-insurgency which continues unabated while attention is on Bangkok

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 at a press conference in Bangkok on Tuesday 13 January 2009.

The 37-page report, Thailand: Torture in the southern counter-insurgency, documents people being brutally beaten, burned with candles, buried up to their necks in the ground, subjected to electric shocks, having needles stuck into various parts of their bodies, sodomized and exposed to intense heat or cold.

Survivors of torture told Amnesty 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 have died as a result of torture.

Amnesty International has 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 is based on interviews with survivors of torture and relatives of people who have been tortured. It includes testimonies from:

  • A young rubber farmer who was arrested in February 2008 and tortured for two weeks at two different detention centres; he was beaten, sodomised with a stick, and had a plastic bag placed over his head while soldiers told him to confess to a bombing.
  • A woman and her six year old son were detained by soldiers in February 2008 who said they were looking for her husband; the woman was beaten, and her son was taken away from her and later brought back to her soaking wet and with a fever. The soldiers were demanding to know where the woman’s husband was.
  • In an extremely serious incident, three rubber farmers were arrested in March 2008. One was kicked and beaten with an iron bar for hours until he died; the other two were beaten, almost suffocated with plastic bags, hung upside-down and kicked in a manner resembling Thai kick-boxing, had needles stuck into their fingers, face and genitals, and were pepper-sprayed, as soldiers demanded that they confess to knowledge of or involvement in the insurgency.

The Royal Thai Government has a right and a duty to protect its citizens from violence. But the government’s heavy-handed security response, with some 45 percent of Thai military forces currently stationed in the south, has led to widespread human rights violations and has alienated the local population. The “Battle Plan for the Protection of Southern Lands” announced in June 2007 has been characterised by arrests of large numbers of suspects under powers of preventative detention, creating a climate of fear among local people. In November 2008 the government responded to bombings by insurgents by announcing a budget of nearly eight billion baht (US$220m) for 2009 to combat the insurgency.

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 punishments to obtain information, to extract confessions and to intimidate detainees and their communities into withholding or withdrawing support for the insurgents. Amnesty’s research indicates that torture cannot be dismissed as the work of a few errant subordinates in isolated instances.

Donna Guest, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Programme, said:

“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.

“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. 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 organisation 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;
  • Amend the Emergency Decree of 2005, which provides much of the legal framework for the counter-insurgency operations;
  • Permit detainees access to family members, lawyers, and medical personnel;
  • 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 long-standing 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. 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). Thailand has passed no legislation specifically criminalising 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 at: (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

  • Read the report

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