Five years after the violent suppression of pro-democracy campaigners in Bangkok, the human rights situation still gives cause for concern, Amnesty International said today.
Despite improvements in some important areas since the May 1992 crackdown -- which culminated in at least 52 deaths -- the human rights organization remains concerned at the level of unlawful killings committed by the security forces, the treatment and protection of refugees and the imposition of the death penalty for a wide variety of offences.
"The overall improvement in the human rights situation in the last five years has not been reflected in the conduct of some officers within the police forces," Amnesty International said. "The level of unlawful killings and subsequent attempts to cover up these crimes is not being dealt with by a government which seems worryingly complacent."
The Thai authorities have permitted independent bodies to investigate these killings, but have not granted them sufficient powers to effectively carry out their work. The police are also obliged to carry out investigations, but these are often subject to lengthy delays and officers are almost never convicted of unlawful killings. As a result, the security forces appear to operate with impunity and are regarded as accountable to no-one.
Amnesty International called on the Royal Thai government to ensure that law enforcement officers only use force and firearms as a last resort in self-defence and that all cases of extrajudicial execution are promptly and independently investigated.
The organization also called on the government to establish a national human rights commission, abolish the death penalty and to ensure that refugees are properly protected and not sent back to face danger in their home countries.
Since November 1996, in a marked increase in police shootings of criminal suspects, some 29 people have been reportedly shot dead. In some cases, police have shot dead suspects after they had already surrendered, or when suspects have posed little or no threat to them. It is widely believed that the security forces operate a de facto shoot-to-kill policy.
On 27 November 1996, police in Suphan Buri Province, central Thailand, arrested six suspected drug traffickers after they had surrendered without a struggle, handcuffed them and took them into a house where they had been hiding allegedly to find a weapons cache. People outside the building heard shots and when reporters entered the building the six prisoners were dead. Their bodies were cremated quickly without any autopsy and a few days later the police burned down the building, preventing investigators from examining evidence.
On 4 January 1997, security guards shot three Cambodian children who had crossed over the border to collect scrap materials. The security officials interrogated the three while they lay injured on the ground and later returned to shoot them dead at point blank range. To Amnesty International's knowledge no investigation has been conducted into their deaths.
Refugees from Myanmar, who the Thai authorities consider to be illegal immigrants, have also been the victims of the government's failure to properly protect them. Armed groups allied to the Burmese government have crossed the border into Thailand on many occasions and attacked refugees.
On 28 January 1997, a group of armed men burned two refugee camps in Thailand to the ground, killing one person and leaving up to 10,000 people without shelter homeless. On 4 April, 80 armed men crossed the border in Tak Province, killing at least one refugee and forcing others to return to Myanmar.
Amnesty International is calling on the Thai government to provide adequate security and protection for refugees and not to forcibly return any refugees to situations where they may be at risk of human rights violations. In early 1997, at least 4,000 Burmese refugees were forcibly returned, despite grave concern from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other refugee organizations.
The organization also criticised the Thai government's continued use of the death penalty. In Thailand, the death sentences are mandatory for premeditated murder, murder of an official on government business, regicide and the production or export of heroin. They are discretionary for robbery, rape, arson, insurrection and treason amongst other crimes.
Information about the death penalty is difficult to obtain because death sentences are often not reported. However, at least seven death sentences are believed to have been imposed during 1996, and a further five people sentenced to death in January 1997.
The King usually commutes death sentences, but in January 1996, Prommas Seamsai, who was reportedly convicted of murdering a policeman, was shot dead by a firing squad in Bangkwang Maximum Security Prison. His execution was conducted in great secrecy and there was no prior public notification.
"Human rights protection in Thailand has improved in the last five years, but there is still work to do," Amnesty International said. "It is time for the Royal Thai government to tackle the serious human rights problems that continue in the Kingdom."
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