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Thai Border Patrol Police BPP Torture
Feb 11, 2008
BANGKOK, Feb 11 (IPS) - Thailand's scandal-ridden police force, which has not even spared a four-year-old boy from torture, is taking flak from the country's premier lawyer's body. It follows revelations of brutal excesses by an elite police unit.
The angry reaction from the Law Society of Thailand (LST) came in the wake of almost daily media reports since Feb. 26 about the ''inhuman and brutal'' measures used by policemen attached to a Border Patrol Police (BPP) unit on innocent civilians arrested on alleged drug-trafficking offences.
''This confirmed the extent to which torture is used by the police to extract confessions,'' Deju-Udom Krairit, chairman of the LST, told IPS. ''The police is not afraid to use torture soon after arrests because they know that there is no system to check such abuse within the police force.''
The LST, in fact, announced plans to set up its own inquiries about the latest reports of torture by the elite police unit that came to light after one of its victims, a 42-year-old woman, lodged a complaint with a Bangkok police station in late January. Piengjit Peungon reported that she, her 15-year-old son, a friend and a maid had been kidnapped and abused by a gang of 13. During that four-day ordeal, the BPP officers had demanded Piengjit pay them 8.68 million baht (263,000 US dollars) for her release and that of the others.
Subsequent revelations have shown that this gang, led by 28-year-old Captain Nat Chonnithiwanit, had not even paused when another female victim of theirs pleaded for mercy on account of being two-months pregnant. Jutharporn Noorod, a silver jewellery seller in Bangkok, was tortured with ''electric shocks'' through the night in a room at a hotel in the Thai capital.
Her nightmare began in early February last year, after she was abducted by the policemen, who accused the 34-year-old of being a drug trafficker. Her torment ended when she ''confessed'' to having methamphetamine tablets in her possession. She was then jailed, during which time she gave birth to her child. But a court acquitted her of all charges in late October last year.
By the weekend, there were nearly 60 reports of torture that had come to light, with some victims, who had remained silent out of fear, reporting abuse that had taken place as back as 2004. Chanthana Phuengyaem is among them. ''The Border Patrol Captain and his men had stripped her naked before torturing her,'' reported 'The Nation', a daily newspaper here. ''They (put) a large plastic bag over her head to stimulate suffocation.''
The leading role played by Nat makes it increasingly difficult for the Thai police, which has launched its own inquiry, to dismiss the reports of kidnapping, extortion and torture as the work of a rogue unit. Till his arrest two weeks ago, the clean-shaven, open-faced officer was hailed as a star performer in enforcing the law, given his record of making over 200 narcotics-related arrests across the country over the past three years.
Nat, in fact, had benefited from the impressive rewards the police give its officers in cracking down on drugs. Besides promotions within the force, police officers who make successful arrests can get over 35 percent of the value of the drugs impounded as cash reward.
What is more, Nat was entitled to two identification cards, one of which gave him power to operate with a ''nation-wide mandate,'' a source monitoring the case told IPS on condition of anonymity. ''This gave him a blank card to wield power with little scrutiny. He could keep an arrested suspect for three to four days in his custody.''
''His arrest record made him come across as an efficient officer pursuing drug cases,'' the source added. ''He also stuck to the tradition in the Thai police of junior officers always giving credit to their bosses for being involved in the arrests. Each of the documents for the arrests had been signed by a senior officer of colonel rank or above.''
Nat's tendency to use torture is rooted in its acceptance within the country's criminal justice system. ''The police see torture as the most efficient way to get information and confessions from suspects in order to close a case,'' Sunai Phasuk, Thai researcher for the global rights lobby Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IPS. ''The police do not consider it illegal to use torture since it is not specifically stated as illegal in the law.''
Similar abuse has been common before, too, when a former government launched a 'war on drugs' to rid this South-east Asian nation of a disturbingly high drug habit, mainly methamphetamines, or 'ya ba', as it is known in Thai. Over 2,500 people were killed during that anti-drug campaign in 2003 after the government of the day, headed by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, endorsed a policy of ''licence to kill'' in going after suspected drug traffickers. But many victims were innocent civilians, say human rights groups.
According to the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), such scale of abuse goes back to the 1950s, when the police force was ''built'' by police general Phao Sriyanond, a former army general. ''It took on paramilitary functions through new special units, including the border police. It ran the drug trade, carried out abductions and killings with impunity, and was used as a political base for Phao and his associates.''
Such violence and impunity were further confirmed by the Crime Reporters' Association of Thailand, when the latter revealed at a recent seminar that the police was responsible for 400 cases of human rights violations in the past 20 years. ''The victims of police brutality ranged from prostitutes, the mentally ill, Buddhist monks and foreign tourists to amputee veterans in wheelchairs,'' reported 'The Nation'. ''Techniques used to frame suspects or innocent people or to impose more serious charges for crimes not committed included torture, humiliation and degradation, physical assault (and) blackmail.''
''The youngest documented victim is a four-year-old boy,'' Siroj Mingkhwan, chairman of the association, is reported to have told the seminar. ''In 1992 he had his bottom boiled in hot water, was kept in a dog cage and forced to eat fresh chilli and boiling soup by a police officer.''
Thai human rights activists who have been campaigning to end torture admit that the absence of a strong accountability mechanism within the police hampers their efforts. ''When the police are asked about torture complaints we are often told that they are under investigation,'' Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, coordinator of the Working Group on Justice for Peace, told IPS. ''But the public are not informed about the actual progress of such investigations.''
*************************************************************AHRC OPEN LETTER:
[AHRC Open Letter] THAILAND: Urgent need for law against torture
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
An Open Letter to the Minister of Justice of Thailand by the Asian Human Rights Commission
Fax: +662 502 6699/ 6734 / 6884
Dear Mr. Sompong
THAILAND: Urgent need for law against torture
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) congratulates you on your appointment as Minister of Justice of Thailand.
You will be aware that in recent days a number of cases have surfaced that have again brought considerable negative attention to the work of the police force and paramilitary groups in Thailand.
Among them is the widely-reported case of the Border Patrol Police gang that allegedly abducted and tortured at least 80 persons, whom they set up on a range of drug-related criminal offences and robbed. The sorts of torture that the gang is described as having used include suffocating and assaulting victims and even electrocuting a pregnant woman. More and more persons are coming forward to claim that they were set up by the gang and it is evident that abduction and torture were central to the mode of operations of this unit.
In the last few days, another case involving Border Patrol Police has been reported in Songkhla Province. According to the open letter of a school administrator there, two of his teachers were taken on February 5 and although one was released later that day, the other was kept until February 7 and brutally tortured. The victim alleges that he was taken to the Task Force 43 camp in Nathawi District where he was beaten all over, strangulated, suffocated with plastic bags, boxed on both temples so that his eardrums burst, stomped on his throat and told that if he didn't confess to some crimes then he had a choice between being killed on the spot or being killed while being made to look as if he was escaping. From the description, the injuries caused to the victim's ears may result in permanent damage.
The AHRC is following both of these cases closely, as it has done numerous other allegations of torture by police, paramilitary and military personnel in Thailand during recent years. From these, and the reports of other organisations and researchers, it has concluded that torture is systemic and widespread in criminal investigations throughout Thailand.
Although both of the abovementioned cases are now under inquiry, an obstacle to the effective prosecution of the accused officers in each, as in other cases that the AHRC has studied, is the absence of a specific law against torture. Although Thailand has now ratified the UN Convention against Torture, and although the 2007 Constitution of Thailand prohibits torture under article 32, the absence of a discrete, enabling law in accordance with the definition of torture under the convention is a serious impediment to justice.
In this respect, I wish to draw your attention to General Comment No. 2 of the UN Committee against Torture, which monitors compliance with the treaty to which Thailand is a State Party. This comment has the purpose of explaining how the convention must also be implemented, in accordance with its article 2. In it, the committee makes clear in paragraph 8 that:
"States Parties must make the offence of torture punishable as an offence under [their] criminal law, in accordance, at a minimum, with the elements of torture as defined in article 1 of the Convention, and the requirements of article 4."
It continues in paragraph 10:
"The Committee recognizes that most States Parties identify or define certain conduct as ill-treatment in their criminal codes. In comparison to torture, ill-treatment differs in the severity of pain and suffering and may not require proof of impermissible sources. The Committee emphasizes that it would be a violation of the Convention to prosecute conduct solely as ill-treatment where the elements of torture are also present."
In this, the committee stresses and lays plain that without a specific law to prohibit torture in accordance with the convention, a State Party has not even done the minimum to give effect to the terms of the treaty.
The Asian Human Rights Commission has for a number of years called for the introduction of an unequivocal law to prohibit torture in Thailand in accordance with international standards, and in particular, the UN Convention against Torture, which the Government of Thailand has promised to uphold and against which its performance will be assessed in the coming years.
We sincerely believe that it will be of great benefit to the people of Thailand and of credit to its government for a law criminalising torture to be introduced at the nearest possible opportunity. We thus join with other human rights defenders in Thailand and abroad in expressing the hope that your administration will seize this moment and see that this urgently needed law is introduced without undue delay, so that the means may at last exist to address properly the horrendous practice of torture in Thailand.
1. Samak Sundaravej, Prime Minister, Thailand
Posted on 2008-02-11
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