Prosecution of Tak Bai killers must now begin
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is writing to you following the inquest findings of a court in Thailand issued on 29 May 2009 that the deaths of 78 men in Narathiwat in October 2004 was a result of suffocation while being carried in vehicles. The findings clear the way for prosecutions of the persons responsible for this heinous crime, which attracted and continues to attract global attention and bring Thailand into international disrepute.
According to the findings of the two judges who conducted the inquest (Songkhla Provincial Court, Red Case No. Chor 8/2009) under section 150 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the 78 victims were detained outside the Tak Bai District Police Station on 25 October 2004. They died while under custody and being transported to the Ingkayuthaboriharn Army Camp. The officer in charge of the operations is clearly identified as General Pisarn Wattanawongkiri of the Royal Thai Army, with army, police and other personnel joining the operation.
While the inquest findings leave many questions unanswered, the inquest clearly establishes the basis for criminal prosecutions of the responsible persons, both the commanding officers and those directly involved in the killing of these 78 men. The findings leave no doubt that the men died in official custody and that they died of unnatural causes. These two facts are sufficient to make criminal prosecution imperative. Any outstanding questions can be addressed through further police investigation and through the court process itself.
The responsibility for prosecution and further directions now falls to you. The AHRC notes with concern that your record of prosecutions of security forces' abuses, including large-scale killings, has not been good. In fact, it has been shameful. Neither the inquests into the killings of 28 men at Krue Se or 19 at Sabayoi in the same year has resulted in any prosecutions of government officers. The findings in this case give you an excellent opportunity to demonstrate that in fact the security forces cannot always get away with murder, and if there is any one case in which there can be no doubt of the necessity for prosecution, it is this one.
In that regard, I would remind you of the international standards on the handling of persons in custody. Under the UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, "All persons under any form of detention or imprisonment shall be treated in a humane manner and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person." Furthermore, "No person under any form of detention or imprisonment shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment", where, "The term 'cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment' should be interpreted so as to extend the widest possible protection against abuses, whether physical or mental, including the holding of a detained or imprisoned person in conditions which deprive him, temporarily or permanently, of the use of any of his natural senses, such as sight or hearing, or of his awareness of place and the passing of time." Finally, "No circumstance whatever may be invoked as a justification for torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment," not least of all one leading to death, as in this case.
I would also point out that the failure to prosecute in cases of this sort is lending credence to the widespread view globally that government officials in Thailand, and especially military and police officers, enjoy complete impunity for their actions, such that they can even get away with large-scale murder. While government representatives attempt to sound concerned about human rights in international forums, their words will only be taken seriously when backed with actions. That part of the work, the hard work, is your responsibility.
For all these reasons and many others besides, the Asian Human Rights Commission, along with many other organizations and concerned individuals throughout the world sees no alternative for your office but to proceed with criminal investigations and prosecutions of the Tak Bai killers without delay. Failure to do so will not only amount to a failure of justice in this case but to a complete abdication of your duties as public prosecutor.
We look forward to your prompt, determined and effective action.
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong
1. Mr. Abhisist Vejjajiva, Prime Minister of Thailand
2. Mr. Peeraphan Saleeratwipak, Minister of Justice, Thailand
3. Mr. Kasit Piromya, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Thailand
4. Professor Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions
5. Professor Manfred Nowak, UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
6. Mr. Homayoun Alizadeh, Regional Representative, OHCHR, Bangkok, Thailand