Thailand: Court compensation order important step in fight against torture

Asia Human Rights
May 24, 2016
Reproduced with Permission
Asian Human Rights Commission

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) wishes to mark 18 May 2016 as an important date in Thailand's fight against torture. On this date, Thailand's Supreme Administrative Court delivered its official verdict ordering the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) under the Office of Prime Minister to pay 102, 200 baht to Plaintiff no. 1 and 100,000 baht to Plaintiff no. 2 (with 7.5 % interest calculated from 2012) in damages for torture and ill treatment in Yala Province. This resulted in both Plaintiffs receiving approximately 5,000 USD each. This verdict stems from an incident that took place over seven years ago in 2009, when the injured parties were then 14 and 20 years old respectively. This case sets an important precedent, extending the right to claim damages beyond the torture victims themselves to the family members, who were also unduly affected as a result of the abuse.

Mr. Adil Samae and Mr. Mafoawsee Kwangboo were arrested and detained by a military patrol force on 11 April 2009. The arrest took place near Pattani River in Yala province, while they were working on the corn plantations. Under martial law, the head of a patrol unit came and beat them repeatedly and threatened to kill them without reasonable cause. A joint security force also raided Mr. Masaofee's house and beat him. He was then detained at a military camp for several days before the authorities released him without pressing any charges. According to both men, the arbitrary detention and ill-treatment have left them with psychological scars.

The AHRC is aware that Adil and Mafoawsee's case is only one of the many torture cases from southern Thailand. Under martial law, army officials have enormous powers to close roads, censor news, search people and places at any time, arrest and detain people, and give orders to the bureaucracy and judiciary, as if the country was at war. While the alleged purpose is to enable military officials and others to take necessary actions for state security, the effect, as can be seen in this case, is to allow them to take discretionary action on the pretext of martial law provisions.

Although Thailand acceded to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on 2 October 2007 and Thailand's Constitution of 2007 prohibits torture under Article 32(1), the AHRC has long concluded that the absence of an enabling law in accordance with the Convention's definition of torture is a serious impediment to the right to be free from torture. Moreover, there is no specific law in Thailand that provides for compensation in cases of torture. Most of the military officials who committed such violations under martial law were therefore not prosecuted by the government, allowing for a culture of impunity in the country.

The past two years have seen Thailand's military junta tighten its grip on power and severely repress fundamental rights. This undermines the justice system and gives rise to hopelessness for victims of state abuse. The recent verdict of the Supreme Administrative Court however, challenges the existing possibility to claim vicarious liability upon the government for an act of torture committed by a state agent. Even though there is no specific law to provide compensation to torture victims, the verdict has at least set a precedent for others to hold the authorities accountable for their actions under existing Thai law.