Human rights in Thailand

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Thailand was among the first nations to sign the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights[1] of 1948 and seemed committed to safeguarding Human Rights in Thailand. In practice, the reality has been that the powerful can abuse the human rights of their subjects with impunity.[2][3] From 1977 to 1988, Amnesty International reported that there "...were 1,436 alleged cases of arbitrary detention, 58 forced disappearances, 148 torture [sic] and 345 extrajudicial killings in Thailand....The authorities investigated and whitewashed each case."[4] Amnesty International's (AI) Amnesty International Report 2017/18; The State of the World's Human Rights demonstrates that not much has changed in the interim.[5]:358-361 A 2019 Human Rights Watch report expands on AI's overview as it focuses specifically on the case of Thailand.[6]

As the newly-elected government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha assumes power in mid-2019, Thailand's human rights record shows no signs of change according to Human Rights Watch.[7][6]:7-8

Constitutional guarantees[edit]

The 1997 constitution was abrogated in September 2006 following the military coup. The military regime imposed an interim constitution which was in effect until the 2007 version was approved a year later by referendum. The 2007 constitution was partially abrogated by the military regime that came to power in May 2014 and replaced by an interim constitution in effect until the new constitution was approved in 2016.

Many new rights were introduced in the 1997 constitution. These included the right to free education, the rights of traditional communities, and the right to peacefully protest coups and other extra-constitutional means of acquiring power, the rights of children, the elderly, rights of the handicapped, and equality of the genders. Freedom of information, the right to public health and education, and consumer rights were also recognized. A total of 40 rights, compared to only nine rights in the constitution of 1932, were recognized in the 1997 constitution.[8]

The current (2016) constitution, drafted by a body appointed by the military junta (NCPO), states in section 4: "The human dignity, rights, liberty and equality of the people shall be protected".[9] This is unchanged from the 2007 constitution.[10] Sections 26 to 63 set out an extensive range of specific rights in such areas as criminal justice, education, non-discrimination, religion, and freedom of expression.

The 2007 constitution reinstated much of the extensive catalogue of rights explicitly recognized in the People's Constitution of 1997. That constitution outlined the right to freedom of speech, freedom of press, peaceful assembly, association, religion, and movement within the country and abroad.

Infringement of human rights[edit]

The U.S. Department of State[11] and others[12] have registered concerns in several areas:

Human trafficking[edit]

Human trafficking is a major issue in Thailand. This includes misleading and kidnapping men from Cambodia by traffickers and selling them into illegal fishing boats that trawl the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea. These men are promised better paid jobs but instead forced to work as sea slaves as much as 3 years.[13] Numerous international news organizations including The Guardian, AP, and The New York Times have extensively covered the topic; The Associated Press, in particular, has won prominent awards for their coverage (although not without controversy for overstating their role in combating trafficking). Children trafficking is also another major issue in Thailand forcing kidnapped children as young as four to use as sex slaves in major cities like Bangkok and Phuket.[citation needed] Such activities are especially rife in rural areas of Thailand.[14]

Instances of forced labor in the fish and shrimp industry as well as child labour in the pornography industry are still observed in Thailand and have been reported in the 2013 U.S. Department of Labor's report on the worst forms of child labor[15] and in the 2014 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor.

Press freedom and the right of assembly[edit]

In the wake of the 2006 and 2014 coup d'états, the right to free speech, association, and freedom of movement were seriously eroded. The military governments implemented a ban on political meetings and prohibited media criticism. Political activities of all types were banned.[7]

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance noted that Thailand's media environment—prior to the coup considered one of the freest and most vibrant in Asia—had quickly deteriorated following the military ousting of Thaksin Shinawatra. It noted the closure of community radio stations in Thai provinces, the intermittent blocking of cable news channels and the suspension of some Thai websites devoted to discussing the implications of military intervention to Thai democracy. SEAPA also noted that while there seemed to be no crackdown on journalists, and while foreign and local reporters seemed free to roam, interview, and report on the coup as they saw fit, self-censorship was a certain issue in Thai newsrooms.[16][17][18]

British journalist, Suzanne Buchanan, has reported on the recent string of tourist deaths and sexual assaults in Ko Tao. Though she has not been to Thailand in over two years, she is wanted by police who say she is peddling fake news.[19]

Vietnamese journalist Truong Duy Nhat has been detained in Hanoi (as acknowledged by Vietnamese authorities) after being picked up on 26 January 2019 in Bangkok, right after filing for refuge with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Thai authorities are now being pressured to investigate Thai police involvement in the abduction and detention of Nhat, according to human rights NGO Amnesty International.[20]

South Thailand insurgency[edit]

Problems have been reported in the southern provinces related to the South Thailand insurgency. Some 180 persons are reported to have died there while in custody in 2004. In a particularly high-profile case, Muslim human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit was reportedly harassed, threatened, and finally forcibly disappeared in March 2004 following his allegations of torture by state security forces.[21] In 2006, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra stated that he believed that Somchai was dead and that state security forces appeared to be responsible.[22] Five policemen were eventually charged in Somchai's death, though the trial only resulted in one conviction that was overturned on appeal in March 2011.[23] The verdict was denounced by the Asian Human Rights Commission,[24] and Somchai's wife Angkhana declared her intention to continue to appeal the case to the Thai Supreme Court.[23] Since 2007, a number of suspected insurgents in custody have died, some with suspicious injuries.[25]

2003 war on drugs[edit]

The government's antidrug war in 2003 resulted in more than 2,500 extrajudicial killings of suspected drug traffickers.[26][27][28][29][30][31][32][33][34][35][excessive citations] Prison conditions and some provincial immigration detention facilities are characterized as poor. In 2004 more than 1,600 persons died in prison or police custody, 131 as a result of police actions.

The Nation reported on 27 November 2007:

"Of 2,500 deaths in the government's war on drugs in 2003, a fact-finding panel has found that more than half was not involved in drug at all. At a brainstorming session, a representative from the Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) Tuesday disclosed that as many as 1,400 people were killed and labelled as drug suspects despite the fact that they had no link to drugs....Senior public prosecutor Kunlapon Ponlawan said it was not difficult to investigate extra-judicial killings carried out by police officers as the trigger-pullers usually confessed."[34][35]

The 24 January 2008 edition of The Economist reported:

...a panel set up last year by the outgoing junta recently concluded the opposite: over half of those killed in 2003 had no links to the drugs trade. The panel blamed the violence on a government 'shoot-to-kill' policy based on flawed blacklists. But far from leading to the prosecutions of those involved, its findings have been buried. The outgoing interim prime minister, Surayud Chulanont, took office vowing to right Mr Thaksin's wrongs. Yet this week he said there was insufficient evidence to take legal action over the killings. It is easy to see why the tide has turned. Sunai Phasuk, a researcher for NGO Human Rights Watch, says that the panel's original report named the politicians who egged on the gunmen. But after the PPP won last month's elections, those names were omitted.

The New York Times reported on 8 April 2003:

Since the death of 9-year-old Chakraphan, there have been frequent reports in the Thai press of summary executions and their innocent victims. There was the 16-month-old girl who was shot dead along with her mother, Raiwan Khwanthongyen. There was the pregnant woman, Daranee Tasanawadee, who was killed in front of her two young sons. There was the 8-year-old boy, Jirasak Unthong, who was the only witness to the killing of his parents as they headed home from a temple fair. There was Suwit Baison, 23, a cameraman for a local television station, who fell to his knees in tears in front of Mr. Thaksin and begged for an investigation into the killing of his parents. His stepfather had once been arrested for smoking marijuana, Mr. Suwit said. When the police offered to drop the charge if he would admit to using methamphetamines, he opted instead to pay the $100 fine for marijuana use. Both parents were shot dead as they returned home from the police station on a motorbike. Mr. Suwit said 10 other people in his neighborhood had also been killed after surrendering to the police.[27]


The Constitution of Thailand prohibits acts of torture, but the Thai legal system has no definition of torture and torture is not recognized as an offence by Thailand's legal system.[36][37]

In a report entitled, "Make Him Speak by Tomorrow": Torture and other Ill-Treatment in Thailand[38] that was to have been formally released in Bangkok on 28 September 2016, Amnesty International accused the Thai police and military of 74 incidents of brutality. An Amnesty International press conference to unveil the report was halted by Thai authorities who cited Thai labour laws prohibiting visiting foreigners from working in Thailand.[39][40] The three foreign speakers were Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Yubal Ginbar, a lawyer working for the rights group, and Laurent Meillan, acting Southeast Asia representative for the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights.[41] The Thai government denied the torture allegations. The government spokesman, General Sansern Kaewkamnerd, emphasized that, "Our investigations into such allegations have shown no indication of torture, I have seen no indication of torture and the Thai people have seen no indication of torture,..." Jeremy Laurence, a representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) had been scheduled to speak at the press conference.[42] "This incident is another striking illustration of a new pattern of harassment of human rights defenders documenting torture in Thailand," he said.[43]

Thailand has been a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Torture since 2 October 2007. Section 28 of the Thai 2016 constitution states, "A torture, [sic] brutal act or punishment by cruel or inhumane means shall be prohibited."[9]

A bill to prevent torture and enforced disappearance will be put before Thailand's National Legislative Assembly (NLA) in late-December 2018. The bill would criminalise torture and enforced disappearances, including during wars and political unrest. The draft law specifies that the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) be responsible for investigating cases of enforced disappearance and torture. Only in events where DSI officials are accused of such crimes would police be assigned to investigate. Imprisonment for five to 25 years, and/or a fine of 100,000 to 300,000 baht would be levied on guilty parties. Were the bill to become a law, every government agency restricting people's rights would be required to maintain a database of people whose rights are restricted, actions taken, and the disposition of their cases.[44]

Forced disappearances[edit]

According to Amnesty Thailand, at least 59 human-rights defenders have been victims of forced disappearance since 1998.[44] The Bangkok Post counts 80 confirmed disappeared, and likely murdered, since 1980. The military government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has refused to criminalize torture and enforced disappearances.[45]

Human rights advocates across Asia fear that Southeast Asian countries, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Laos, have jointly agreed to cooperate to ensnare political activists who have fled their own borders and send them back to their home nations without due process to face torture and possible death.[46]

Among those who disappeared:

  • Somchai Neelapaijit, human rights attorney who championed the rights of Thai-Malay Muslims in the deep south. He was abducted and killed in 2004 during the Thaksin Shinawatra administration. His body was never found and no one has been punished.[47]
  • Porlajee "Billy" Rakchongcharoen, Karen-ethnic activist[47]
  • Den Khamlae, villager-turned-activist[48][49]
  • On 22 June 2016, an anti-monarchist in Laos, Itthipol Sukpan, a 28-year-old pro-democracy broadcaster known as DJ Zunho, was snatched by unknown assailants and pulled into the woods. He was never seen again.[50][51]
  • Wuthipong Kachathamakul, also known as Ko Tee, red shirt activist, disappeared in July 2017.[52][50][51]
  • Surachai Danwattananusorn or Surachai Sae Dan, a radical red shirt and critic of the monarchy together with two aides, Chatchan "Phoo Chana" Boonphawal and Kraidet "Kasalong" Luelert.[53][50][54]
  • Siam Theerawut, Chucheep Chivasut, and Kritsana Thapthai, three Thai anti-monarchy activists, went missing on 8 May 2019 when they are thought to have been extradited to Thailand from Vietnam after they attempted to enter the country with counterfeit Indonesian passports. The trio are wanted in Thailand for insulting the monarchy and failing to report when summoned by the junta after the May 2014 coup.[55][56] Their disappearance prompted an "alert statement" from the Thai Alliance for Human Rights.[57]
  • Od Sayavongm, a Lao refugee and critic of the Laotian government, disappeared from his Bangkok home on 26 August 2019 and has not been seen since.[46]

According to the legal assistance group, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, at least 86 Thais left Thailand seeking asylum abroad following the military takeover in May 2014. Among them are the four members of the Thai band Fai Yen. Their music is their crime, as some of their songs mock the monarchy, a serious offense in Thailand. The band, whose name means 'cool fire', announced on social media that its members feared for their lives after "many trusted people told us that the Thai military will come to kill us."[58] All of those who disappeared in late-2018 and early-2019 were accused by Thai authorities of anti-monarchical activity.[59]

Assaults on activists[edit]

Since 2018, there have been 11 physical assaults on political activists in Thailand. Police investigations of the assaults have shown no progress.[60]

Regime critic Ekachai Hongkangwarn has been assaulted seven times[61] since 2017.[62] Attacks have targeted his property and his person.[63][64] The latest assault took place in May 2019, when he was beaten by four attackers in front of a court building. Authorities appear powerless to stop the attacks. One culprit was arrested in 2018, paid a fine, and was released.[65]

On 28 June 2019, anti-junta activist Sirawith "Ja New" Seritiwat was attacked by four assailants wielding baseball bats on a busy Bangkok thoroughfare. Earlier in June, Sirawith was attacked by five men when traveling home from a political event. In the case of the latest attack, the deputy prime minister broke the government's silence on political attacks and ordered the police to act swiftly to find the attackers.[66]

Burmese refugees[edit]

Burmese refugees in Thailand can stay in one of the refugee camps along the border with Burma, which protect them from arrest and summary removal to Burma but they lack freedom to move or work. Or, they can live and work outside the camps, but typically without recognized legal status of any kind, leaving them at risk of arrest and deportation. From 2005 to 2011, more than 76,000 Burmese refugees were resettled from the border camps to third countries, though the total number of camp residents has remained at about 140,000. [67][68]

Camp refugees who venture out of the camps are regarded by the Thai government as illegal aliens and are subject to arrest. Thai police or paramilitaries regularly apprehend camp residents and either return them to camp if the refugees pay sufficient bribes, or send them to one of Thailand’s Immigration Detention Centers and then deport them to Burma.[67][68] Refugees in the camps find themselves subject to abuse and exploitation at the hands of other refugees. Refugees working as camp security as well as camp leaders and camp residents with hidden connections to ethnic armed groups inside Burma all wield power in the camps.[69][70]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

 This article incorporates public domain material from the Library of Congress Country Studies website