A Thai court’s award of damages for the fatal torture of a Muslim detainee highlights the government’s failure to prosecute soldiers who commit grave abuses in Thailand’s troubled deep south border provinces, Human Rights Watch said today. The case is a critical test of Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha’s vow to bring justice to Thailand’s restive southern border provinces.
On August 21, 2015, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that Ashari Sama-ae, 25, died from injuries he sustained while detained by the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) in 2007. The court ordered the Prime Minister's Office, which directs the ISOC, to provide approximately 1,014,000 baht (US$28,000) to Ashari’s family as compensation. However, authorities have not prosecuted any of the soldiers allegedly involved in the torture and killing of Ashari.
“The court ruling in the Ashari case confirms yet another deadly human rights abuse by troops in Thailand’s deep south,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Thai government’s failure to bring to justice those responsible for Ashari’s torture and death is part of the broad pattern of abuse in which impunity is the norm.”
Soldiers from the 11th Task Force and the 13th Task Force arrested Ashari on July 21, 2007 during a security sweep in Yala province’s Krong Pi Nang district. That evening, they sent Ashari from Ingkhayuth Camp in Pattani province to Yala Regional Hospital for treatment of injuries. He died the next morning. The autopsy report revealed swelling in Ashari’s brain and numerous bruises on his body. Other people arrested with Ashari later filed a complaint with the National Human Right Commission, alleging that they had been tortured in military custody.
Troops from regular and militia units in the southern border provinces carry a code-of-conduct booklet produced by ISOC that prohibits violations of human rights and due process of law. However, Human Rights Watch has interviewed many ethnic Malay Muslims in the southern border provinces who contended that they had been tortured or otherwise ill-treated by security personnel. Lawyers and independent medical experts who have seen detainees during and after their release have corroborated these allegations. The most common forms of torture have been ear-slapping, punching, kicking, beating, electric shock, strangulation, and suffocation with plastic bags.
On September 12, 2014, General Prayuth announced at the National Legislative Assembly that his government would seek a solution to violence in the southern border provinces by “… creating trust and confidence in the judicial process based on the rule of law and human rights principles without discrimination.”
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a party, prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; and extrajudicial execution. Thailand is also a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which specifically places an obligation on governments to investigate and prosecute acts of torture and other ill-treatment. Providing monetary compensation to the victims and their families does not free Thai authorities from their obligation to prosecute members of the security forces responsible for serious abuses, Human Rights Watch said.
The Thai government should:
- Immediately ensure the safety of all detainees in the southern border provinces;
- Provide urgent medical care to all who sustained injuries during arrest or in detention;
- Allow timely access to legal counsel and family members; and
- Open a full investigation into allegations of torture and ill-treatment.
Since a new surge of fighting in the southern border provinces began, Thai security forces have carried out killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and other abuses with impunity. The Thai government has yet to prosecute successfully any security personnel for abuses against ethnic Malay Muslims alleged to be involved in the insurgency.
While the Pejuang Kemerdekaan Patani (Patani Freedom Fighters) – separatist insurgents in the loose network of BRN-Coordinate (National Revolution Front-Coordinate) – have suffered setbacks from counter-insurgency operations, they are still able to maintain their presence in hundreds of villages. The insurgents have committed numerous atrocities, including indiscriminate bombings and summary killings, against civilians from the ethnic Thai Buddhist and Malay Muslim communities. More than 6,000 people have been killed since fighting erupted in January 2004.
“No one doubts that the Thai government is fighting a brutal insurgency, but that does not justify giving a blank check to troops to commit abuses,” Adams said. “By relying on repressive measures and restrictions on fundamental human rights, Thai authorities have only helped create a fertile ground for further militancy and violence in the deep south.”