Friday, June 28, 2013

Aftermath of the World Congress - back to Thailand

Thai Government spokesperson reveals Thai position on death penalty
In a discussion entitled Global Trend toward Abolition of the Death Penalty hosted on 27 June 2013 by Department of Rights and Liberty Protection Mr. Nitee Jitsawang, deputy director of the Thailand Institute of Justice spoke on the Thai position on the death penalty. He declared the Thai objective as de facto abolition, a status commonly ascribed to countries which have not executed for a ten year period. He indicated Thailand’s transition in the UN vote on a Moratorium from opposition to abstention as a major stepping stone on the way to abolition. He identified other major advances Thailand’s legislation passed in 2012 to withhold the death penalty for those under 18 years of age, and for pregnant woman. On the other hand he pointed to public opinion in favour of the death penalty as the great obstacle to abolition in Thailand. Nevertheless, the policy of waiting for the status of de facto abolition in 2019 would bring the day closer when Thailand would abandon the death penalty. He pointed out the huge task for government of constructing high security prisons in remote areas should the government decide to substitute permanent imprisonment without parole to replace the penalty of death.

This is sorry stuff indeed, when compared with the enthusiasm and convictions of the recent World Congress on Abolition. At the Congress the status of defacto abolitionist was declared ineffective. Such abolition is unstable and can be abandoned at will as in the cases of India and Pakistan. There is no substitute for a legal engagement to abolish the death penalty such as is contained in the 2nd Optional Protocol to the International Convention on Cultural and Political Rights, or even formal response to the UN Moratorium call. Mr. Nitee is surely aware that Thailand’s halting advance to abstention from voting was due to pressure on the Ministry of Justice by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which is more attuned to the winds of change in the UN. The other large steps claimed by Mr. Nitee are merely official formulation of decisions long made before to spare the lives of under 18s and pregnant women, although in the latter case execution may still follow the birth of the child. In fact we are aware of only one execution of a woman, pregnant or not, in recent Thai practice, and one case of an under 18 where the actual age was not fully clear. It is deceptive to claim these measures as large steps in Thailand’s path to abolition.
The indication that Thailand is considering replacing the death penalty with life imprisonment without parole is the most worrying indication of Thailand’s intent. The speaker conceded that such a punishment could be worse than the death penalty, and by perverted logic appeared to suggest that this was an argument to retain the death penalty. Whatever, we will fight against such a policy with the same vigour as we oppose the death penalty itself. 
Finally, the contention of the speaker that public opposition to abolition is the reason for government hesitation is specious. Three years after declaring a policy of abolition in its 2nd human rights plan the government has made no attempt to inform or educate the public on the matter. Will public opinion change of its own accord by 2019? 
In a message to the World Congress 2013 the UN Secretary General identified a lack of political will on the part of authorities as the main cause of persistence of the death penalty. As in Thailand.

The time scheduled for the Global Trend discussion was three hours, two hours for invited speakers and one hour for questions and discussion. There were three brief reactions from civil society organizations. One was from a Prachathai journalist who attended the Madrid conference and who was told by the organizers that direct invitation had been issued to Thai officials and members of government, but that there had been no response. There were no further questions or discussion. The meeting closed one hour ahead of schedule, an indication of interest in the subject!

1 comment:

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