Uncertain future for death penalty in Thailand
It’s been almost 8 years since the last execution here in Thailand, yet the future of the death penalty remains a mystery.
Those campaigning for the abolition of the death penalty may take solace in the fact that no one has been executed for eight years. There have been no actual executions, but a senior government official said it’s simply impossible to predict when capital punishment will be abolished in Thailand.
Pitikan Sitthidej, Director General of the Department of Rights and Liberties said it’s impossible to pin down when Thailand will do away with death penalty despite having observed a de facto moratorium since 2009.
“I can’t say when it will end but in practice it will soon be 10 years since no execution has taken place,” Pitikan said. “We don’t know when death penalty will be abolished.”
Pitikan was vague on whether it would be.
At present there are 63 crimes that merit death sentence under Thai law, ranging from people found guilty of the rape and murder of girls under 15 or their parents to big time drug dealers and extremists. Pitikan pointed out that under the Thai penal code, any criminal sentenced to death will automatically be required to apply for a royal pardon to the king in hope of having the sentence commuted to life imprisonment.
According to a document of the justice ministry, there were 444 inmates sentenced to death at various stages of the judiciary system as of April 2017. The document also states that during the 65th UN General Assembly in 2010, Thailand no longer voted to oppose a move to end the death penalty but had decided to abstain from voting.
However, according to the same paper, the ministry conducted a survey on the possible abolition of the death penalty on 1,073 people in all the four regions of the country as well as in Bangkok and discovered that 73 percent of respondents still supported death penalty.
Campaign groups such as Amnesty International Thailand took the opportunity on the World Day Against the Death Penalty on Tuesday to renew its call for the abolition of capital punishment in Thailand.
Knowing that it is still far from being realized, the organization’s director Piyanut Kotsan said she wanted to see the Thai government announce a formal moratorium on capital punishment and decrease the number of crimes punishable by death.
“We’re quietly lobbying and maintain the trend for the end of death penalty,” said Piyanut on Tuesday.
Pitikan said there will be no formal announcement of moratorium as in reality Thailand is also a de facto moratorium state on the matter.
“What announcement? I am confused. How do we make such announcement?” said Pitakan, adding that the Third National Human Rights Plan, covering 2014 to 2018, clearly stated that the state shall conduct studies on the possible abolition of the death penalty. When asked about a campaign to educate the public about the negative repercussion of death penalty such as the violation of the right to life, Pitikan said the department lacks funding to engage in such campaign as it has only 300 million baht budget per annum.
In the end, said the director general, whether Thailand will abolish capital punishment or not depends not on international organizations such as Amnesty International or the government but on the society’s consensus itself.
“We must consider the direction of our society as well,” Pitikan said.
While it’s still common for some Thais on social media to keep calling for some criminals – particularly those who have committed rape and murder – to be executed, the anti-death penalty argument is slowly becoming known.
Pitikan for example stressed that a wrongful death penalty means those executed can no longer be brought back to life.
“It’s against the basic human rights principle of the right to life. Most of those [sentenced] tend to be poor and underprivileged.”
Chamnan Chanruang, a prominent campaigner for the end of death penalty said ending the death penalty is not about not punishing the wrongdoers while death penalty is vindictive and about revenge.
“What should be done is not to eliminate these people but to find out the root cause and eliminate it. If we hate what they did we shouldn’t commit the same things which is to become criminals by allowing acting as executioners on our behalf,” said Chamnan.