Our Neighbours -- Thailand
Thailand : Extra Judicial
Asian Legal Resource Centre --
Friday, 2nd April 2004
Statement on 'Extra-judicial killings
of migrant workers and impunity in Thailand' received by Commission on
(Geneva, 2 April 2004) --The written
statement of the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) on 'Extra-judicial
killings of migrant workers and impunity in Thailand'
(E/CN.4/2004/NGO/41) was distributed on the 31 March 2004 at the 60th
Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.
The full text of the statement follows.
This year, ALRC submitted 30 written
statements to the Commission, on topics as diverse as caste
discrimination in Nepal, food scarcity in Myanmar, custodial deaths and
torture in India, extrajudicial killings in Thailand, policing in
Pakistan, the National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, and
impunity in Asia.
The complete list of statements, with
full texts and links to the original versions, can be viewed on the ALRC
Asian Legal Resource Centre -- ALRC, Hong
Extra-judicial killings of migrant workers and impunity in
1. On 13 February 2003, 38-year-old Sam-ang
Chumchon was riding a bicycle home in Udon Thani, Thailand, when she
stopped alongside a car at a red light. A motorcycle pulled up alongside
and a man on the back started shooting into the car. The bullets passed
through the vehicle and killed Sam-ang along with two of the car's
occupants. Sam-ang became another statistic in the so-called "drug war"
declared by the Prime Minister of Thailand that month, which in 2003
left at least 2500 persons murdered with impunity. Although Sam-ang was
clearly an innocent bystander, as she was killed in a "war"-related
killing, no one in her community offered help with the funeral, and her
family's reputation was ruined because most people presumed that she was
also somehow guilty of wrongdoing.
2. Extrajudicial killings have occurred
in Thailand for many years. Last year, the Asian Legal Resource Centre
submitted a written statement to the Commission on the killing of
illegal migrant workers. (E/CN.4/2003/NGO/149). In that statement it
noted that the impunity with which persons from other countries are
killed in Thailand is indicative of the crisis facing the rule of law in
that country. In 2003, that condition became increasingly apparent with
the spreading of killings among Thai citizens themselves, on accusations
of being involved in the drug trade.
3. On 28 January 2003, Prime Minister
Thaksin Shinawatra initiated a campaign that not only allowed officials
responsible for killing suspected drug traffickers to remain free, but
also rewarded murder by portraying alleged drug-traffickers as
sub-humans deserving to die. Sections 33 and 75 of the Constitution of
the Kingdom of Thailand contain provisions corresponding to article 14
of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to the
effect that all persons are equal before the law and are presumed
innocent until proven guilty. However, in implementing this campaign the
Prime Minister of Thailand created a special category of persons,
alleged drug dealers, for whom these provisions needed no longer apply,
for whom any pretence of ordinary criminal procedure could be abandoned.
4. In June 2003, the Asian Legal Resource
Centre released a special report, 'Extrajudicial killings of alleged
drug dealers in Thailand' ("article 2", vol. 2, no. 3). The report notes
that whereas the Government of Thailand has consistently blamed the
killings on "bad guys killing bad guys", many killings had clear
evidence of police involvement, and although the manner of killings
varied across the country, a clear pattern could be ascertained:
a. A victim's name would appear on a
police 'blacklist' or 'watchlist'. The list would be made public
knowledge, by word of mouth, or other means.
b. The victim would receive a letter or
some other notice instructing her to go to the police station.
c. At the police station, the victim
would be coerced to sign something admitting guilt, or otherwise
acknowledge guilt, with promises by the police that her name would be
removed from the list.
d. The victim would be shot on the way
home, or within a few days, usually by a group of men in civilian
clothes, in daylight and in a public place or at her house, often in
front of and without regard to witnesses.
e. Police would fail to investigate the
killing properly, and would concentrate on establishing the victim's
guilt as a drug dealer.
5. The following stories, contained in
the above mentioned report, illustrate how the killings were organised
to target "expendable" persons in order for the police to meet
a. On 17 February 2003, Somjit Kuanyuyen,
a 42-year-old mother living in Ban Laem district, Petchaburi, reported
to the police after her name appeared on a blacklist. At the police
station she was ordered to sign a document she could not read, as she
was illiterate. The police told her she would then be safe. Three days
later, four men with crew cut hairstyles, sunglasses and black clothes
arrived in a pick-up truck at the grocery stand next to her house. Two
entered the premises, and one shot Somjit while her seven-year-old
granddaughter clung to her leg. Her family watched as the man shot
Somjit six more times in the back, killing her. Even though the premises
were only 20 metres from a police box on a main road, the police took a
long time to come and investigate. When they did arrive, they collected
no evidence and asked no questions about the murder, nor did they take
any steps to apprehend the killers. They only asked if Somjit was
involved in the drug trade, and threatened her daughter to keep quiet.
b. On 12 February 2003, 45-year-old Jai-jue
Sae Thao, his younger brother Somchai Sae Thao, their 59-year-old cousin
Boonma Sae Thao, and 59-year-old Seng Sae Theo, the head of the Doi Nam
Pieng Nam Din village, were traveling by truck in Lom Kao district,
Phetchabun, after going to the Lom Kao district office. Two of the men
had received notices to report to the authorities the previous day.
Fourteen kilometres short of their village, all four men were found
dead. Their bodies had been lined up execution-style on the roadside,
and the men had been brutally attacked before being shot in their heads.
Witnesses who initially claimed that uniformed police had killed the men
were quickly silenced. Autopsy reports were not made available, and
evidence appears to have gone missing.
c. Kwanla Puangchomphum and Thanom Montak
were shot dead on 26 February 2003 shortly after leaving Tha Chaliang
police station in Nong Phai district, Phetchabun, where they had gone to
pay a fine for marijuana possession. A white sedan that witnessses claim
to have seen in the police station car park came alongside the couple's
motorcycle, whereupon both were shot dead. The following day their son
fell on his knees in front of the Prime Minister and begged for justice.
The Prime Minister promised to look into the matter, but police
officials dismissed the killing as "drug-related".
d. Bussaporn Pung-am, a 39-year-old whom
police allege to have been a major methamphetamine dealer, was shot dead
in her home in Muang district, Nakhon Pathom, on 11 February 2003, while
having lunch with two neighbours. They claim that an "unidentified man"
got out of a pickup truck, walked inside the grocery store that is part
of the house, and shot Bussaporn five times. Police again dismissed the
case by saying they found court documents in a bag in her house showing
she had acted as a guarantor for more than 200 drug suspects who had
been released on bail.
6. One characteristic of the campaign was
the lack of police investigations after victims were murdered. Police
sometimes excused themselves on the grounds that they needed all their
resources to meet the government targets, however the acting director of
the Forensic Science Institute observed that her agency had resources
available to help investigate cases, but the police were not seeking its
assistance, and instead had had autopsies conducted elsewhere and
evidence removed. Where police did attend the murder scenes, their
investigations and questions were typically directed towards
establishing the victims' guilt, rather than take action to arrest the
murderers, and where evidence of drug trading was purportedly uncovered,
it was also used to justify the murder and effectively close the
7. During the killings, media and public
concern was restricted to the suffering of obvious innocents, rather
than the practice of murder as public policy. One reason the media
narrowed its reporting on the campaign was in response to overt and
covert government threats. The Defense Minister at one point accused
journalists of collecting money from drug dealers. Additionally, the
Prime Minister is a media and communications tycoon whose business
influence and financial power can be used in many ways to silence
criticism. Only since the King encouraged media freedom in December 2003
have journalists and others begun writing openly on the effects of the
8. The Government of Thailand has not
only repressed and ignored most of the criticism of the killings from
its own public but also feigned indifference to international criticism.
Dr Pradit Chareonthaitawee, a member of Thailand's National Human Rights
Commission received political warnings and death threats after
expressing concern about the high number of killings at a United Nations
conference. The National Human Rights Commission itself was intimidated
into silence and forced to spend its time defending itself from
government attack, rather than investigate complaints. The Prime
Minister also openly dismissed the United Nations, and personally
attacked its Special Representative on human rights defenders.
9. Some of the consequences of these
killings in Thailand are as follows:
a. Old feudal practices are being
revived, where punishments are being meted out at the wish of the rulers
without any references to limits imposed by law and morality.
b. The police force has lost all
integrity. As a result, corruption and lawlessness will increase.
c. Criminal and police links have been
hardened. These extrajudicial killings involved the specialization of
functions shared between police and their accomplices. Such activities
are well coordinated, and will not end. A new relationship has been
established between the killers and the planners of the killings.
d. Secrecy and deception will likely
increase, with the need to deny the responsibility of individuals and
also the entire police system. Falsehood must become policy, out of
necessity. Involved politicians will enter into compromises with police
officers. Disciplinary control of the police will become even more
10. Addressing these consequences will
not be easy. After such a profound crisis hits a country, it can be
difficult to move forward. To facilitate change, the Asian Legal
Resource Centre recommends to the Commission that it become far more
assertive in dealing with these killings in Thailand, and
a. Insist that the National Human Rights
Commission of Thailand be permitted to investigate freely and make
public its findings in all complaints of killings, and provide it with
necessary resources to this end. These findings should be submitted to
the National Assembly and take into account the adequate compensating of
all victims and their families, irrespective of whether they have been
deemed guilty or innocent of wrongdoing.
b. Pressure the Government of Thailand to
instruct the Ministry of Justice to investigate and prosecute all cases
of murder, and enforce the law equally and without delay. In particular,
the Ministry must ensure that in every possible case full and proper
autopsies and forensic examinations are conducted. Where bodies or
evidence have been destroyed or 'lost', the police officers responsible
must be held to account. The Ministry should also improve the procedures
for management of autopsies and site investigations.
c. Urge the Government of Thailand to
order the Royal Thai Police service to suspend immediately any officers
subject to inquiries in relation to these killings, until they are found
guilty or innocent through open and fair due process.
d. Request the Special Rapporteur on
extrajudicial killings to approach the Government of Thailand and raise
these murders as a subject of special concern, with a view to granting
an international team access to investigate the killings thoroughly.
e. Respond vigorously to attacks on its
credibility, and that of its representatives, by the Prime Minister and
other officials in the Government of Thailand.
f. Provide material assistance to all
agencies genuinely investigating these killings, and suspend
partnerships with those failing to cooperate.
g. Recommend that international donor
agencies as a matter of policy raise concerns regarding these events,
and tie the provision of assistance for programmes in Thailand to
evidence of progress in investigations.