Thailand – Death Penalty Opponents Urged To Go Public (Bangkok Post)

  • Note that ADPAN has been mentioned in this report in the Bangkok Post, 27/6/2016

Death penalty opponents urged to go public

Achara Ashayagachat Senior reporter on socio-political issues
27 Jun 2016 at 04:25, Bangkok Post

Despite relentless calls by local and international human rights advocacy groups that Thailand scrap capital punishment, there is a long way to go for the Thai state to give a positive response like others in the international community. “It’s an uphill battle for that noble goal,” said Seree Nonthasoot, a Thai representative of the Asean Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) who attended the 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty which wrapped up in Oslo last week.

“There are as many as 30 laws stipulating offences punishable by death, and mainstream legal experts prefer specific laws to replace each capital punishment offence. This is ridiculous, we will just end up spending decade after decade enacting those laws,” said Mr Seree, who acted as a moderator on Asian lessons at the Oslo Congress.

Mr Seree told the Bangkok Post at the congress that the Thai legal gurus’ argument that “having one law to abolish dozens of laws” could create uncertainty and is quite unattainable.

The human rights defender suggested multi-pronged strategies in line with the Congress. First, it requires leadership from state agencies and civil society to push the subject into the mainstream public agenda.

Second, human rights organisations need to educate legal councillors and the legislature, and forward debates to the public on the need to abolish the death penalty, he said.

In his opinion, the UN peer pressure mechanism in Geneva — the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) — is also a helpful process in discussing the matter.

He suggested a priority — to abolish “the clauses that don’t allow a judge to mitigate capital punishment in such offences as having more than 30 grammes of a drug which draws the death sentence, for example”.

Of course, the reality is not so positive. As the fight for abolition goes on, Thailand has produced a plan to add corruption to the list of crimes punishable by death.

“It’s a pity the National Anti-Corruption Commission has proposed it and the National Legislative Assembly has endorsed it,” said Mr Seree, adding the measure was quite ambiguous as it did not specify the amount of money in corruption cases in which the death penalty will be applied, compared to China that has capped it at around three million yuan (about 16 million baht).

There are several other death penalty issues in Thailand that require study, he said. These include extreme crimes involving women, children, people with disabilities and migrants.

What Tingsamitr, chairman of the National Human Rights Commission who also attended the Oslo conference, said he supported the end of capital punishment, but the reality is that those in power have yet to buy into the idea.

“There remain wide differences on the issue. And we are just a small group, not having the [final-say] power,” he said.

The NHRC also supports the Justice Ministry’s move to raise awareness and to educate Thais on the impacts and consequences of the death penalty.

“We’re still not sure if the ministry’s plan to sign the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aimed at abolishing the death penalty by 2018 will materialise,” he said.

 Thailand will examine the covenant and respond in September when the Human Rights Council convenes in Geneva. This will give the Prayut Chan-o-cha government time to consider UPR recommendations from Namibia, Austria, Montenegro, Panama, Poland, Portugal and Turkey on ratification of the covenant, he said.

Danthong Breen, of the Bangkok-based Union for Civil Liberties, said if there are no executions in the country in two years, Thailand could automatically get de facto abolitionist status. However, it’s necessary for the authorities to do more to remove the death penalty altogether.

“The government should engage in a dialogue with the public through scientific methodology that the revenge approach will not change a crime situation, but fair justice and law enforcement will,” said Mr Danthong.

A number of national human rights commissioners from the region attended the Oslo meeting to discuss the role of the national human rights institutes in galvanising public support for removing the death penalty, as well as shaping bureaucratic understanding. But discussions between these groups are still limited.

Nigerian human rights activist Angela Uwandu said advocacy for the abolition has no short cuts. It is a process that involves all stakeholders.

Ms Uwandu said African nations face the challenges of terrorism and abuse of women and children, so mechanisms must be in place to ensure justice for victims and offenders.

“The views of judges are important, while there are human and financial requirements to acquiring psychological experts to give explanations in some cases,” she said.

Driss El Yazami, chairman of the Morocco National Human Rights Council, urged campaigners not to focus their talks to within like-minded groups, but to widen the spectrum of abolitionist campaigns to other professional groups including artists.

“We need to discuss the issue with the public who aren’t convinced,” he said.

Cultural context was also important to understand and find options and alternatives. For example, Japan’s underlying philosophy was to make offenders remorseful or feel guilty, so death was too sudden to ensure redemption. Culprits should be tormented with long prison sentences.

Japan has the world’s longest-serving death row inmate, Iwata Kawamada, whose case has recently been reopened after he had spent 48 years behind bars.

Anti Death Penalty Asia Network, a key advocacy group, said several studies warn against focusing solely on punitive action as the solution to sex offences. Rather, it proposed parent-focused child sex abuse prevention, involving men and boys as allies against sexual violence, mechanisms to identify persons attracted to pre-pubescent girls and introducing school-based sex education at an early age, containing modules addressing inappropriate touching and rape culture.

There is no credible evidence to suggest the death penalty is a deterrent. The Death Penalty Information Centre points to higher murder rates in countries that have the death penalty as proof the threat does not deter crime.

There is also concern that when the death penalty is imposed for crimes that do not usually result in the death of a victim, as in the case of some sex offences, there is a real risk the death penalty threat will encourage an offender to murder a victim to destroy evidence – Bangkok Post, 27/6/2016

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