Thailand: UN Special Rapporteur’s visit is urgently needed to investigate allegations of torture in military custody

Press release
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Paris, Bangkok, 2 September 2014: Thailand’s newly-appointed government must urgently invite Professor Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, to conduct a fact-finding mission into credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment by military personnel since the 22 May coup d’état, FIDH and its member organization Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) said today.

A clear pattern of serious allegations of torture is beginning to emerge, said FIDH President Karim Lahidji. If Prime Minister Prayuth has nothing to hide, he must allow the UN Special Rapporteur to visit Thailand to conduct an independent investigation into these allegations.”

FIDH has received credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment involving at least 13 persons (11 men and two women) who authorities held at various military facilities in Bangkok and Thailand’s Northeast in the days after the coup. Detainees reported that torture was used to extract information about their political connections or to force them to confess the involvement of other individuals in suspected anti-coup activities. Detainees described having their hands and feet tied for several days and, in some cases, being blindfolded. Beating and kicking was the most frequent method of torture reported by detainees. Some detainees reported being beaten until they lost consciousness. Others said that plastic bags were put over their heads in an attempt to suffocate them or electric shocks were applied to their genitals. Forms of psychological torture that were reported include mock burials and executions as well as threats against family members. Although the extent to which detainees suffered physical or mental harm is not known, there was only one reported incident where a detainee had to receive medical treatment as a result of torture.

These allegations are consistent with claims made by other detainees that they had been tortured while in military custody. Activist Ms. Kritsuda Khunasen, 27, claimed military personnel tortured her in order to force her to link former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to red shirt groups that provided assistance to other imprisoned red shirt members. On 27 May 2014, military personnel arrested Kritsuda in Chonburi Province, Eastern Thailand, for refusing to report to the military and held her incommunicado at an unknown location until her release on 24 June.

During a Skype interview with an independent journalist released on 2 August, Kritsuda said she had been blindfolded and her hands tied the entire time during the first seven days of her detention. She said she had been beaten several times during interrogation and a plastic bag and a piece of fabric had been placed over her head until she lost consciousness. In another segment of the same Skype interview, released on 4 August, Kritsuda said that the military gave her paracetamol and anti-inflammatory drugs to remove any physical signs of torture. Kritsuda’s 29-day detention was illegal not only under international law but also under the junta-imposed martial law, which allows authorities to detain suspects for up to seven days without charges. Kritsuda said that on 15 June she was forced to sign a document stating that she had asked the military extend her detention in the camp for longer than seven days for ‘safety reasons’.

On 20 August, it was reported that Worawut Thuagchaiphum, a student activist from Mahasarakham University in Northeastern Thailand, had been threatened with enforced disappearance and being killed while in military custody because he had protested against the coup.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha, Thailand’s new Prime Minister and leader of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the junta that seized power on 22 May 2014, stated that the junta did not violate human rights and had no policy to torture or harm anyone. NCPO spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvaree declared that no detainees were ever mistreated or harmed.

By issuing a blanket denial and refusing to investigate allegations of torture, the junta has failed to comply with Thailand’s obligations under international law, said UCL Chairman Jaturong Boonyarattanasoontorn. This makes the UN Special Rapporteur’s visit to Thailand needed now more than ever, he added.

Thailand is a State party to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Under Article 12 of the Convention, Thailand has an obligation to conduct “a prompt and impartial investigation,” wherever there is “reasonable ground” to believe that an act of torture has been committed.

The previous administration led by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had agreed to an official visit by Un Special Rapporteur Méndez, which was scheduled to take place from 4 to 18 August 2014. [1] However, following the military coup, the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry informed the UN that the Special Rapporteur’s visit would be postponed until the end of the year.

In June, the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT), the body tasked with monitoring the implementation of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment by its State parties, said it was “deeply concerned” over the Thai Army’s 20 May declaration of martial law throughout the country. The CAT urged Thailand to “adhere strictly to the absolute prohibition of torture.” [2]

FIDH and UCL reiterate their call to lift martial law and urge the Thai government to fully implement the CAT’s recommendations. In particular, the CAT recommended that Thailand take effective measures to ensure that "all detainees are afforded all fundamental legal safeguards from the very outset of their detention.” These safeguard include the right of detainees to have prompt access to an independent lawyer and an independent medical doctor as well as the right to contact their family members.

Press contacts:
FIDH: Mr. Arthur Manet (French, English, Spanish) - Tel: +33 6 72 28 42 94 (Paris)
FIDH: Ms. Audrey Couprie (French, English, Spanish) - Tel: +33 6 48 05 91 57 (Paris)
UCL: Mr. Jaturong Boonyarattanasoontorn (Thai, English) - Tel: +66890571755 (Bangkok)
UCL: Mr. Danthong Breen (Thai, English, French) - Tel: +66814502254 (Bangkok)

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