Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"Thailand does not execute women"

The most recent statistics available on the gender composition of prisoners condemned to death is for 1st May 2013. Of 706 condemned prisoners 68 are women and 638 are men. Of the 68 women, 54 are condemned on drug charges and 14 for other crimes.
 The numbers of prisoners who have completed all legal process are 67 of whom 4 are women.  These prisoners await a decision on an application for royal pardon. The 4 women are all condemned on drug charges.
It is now considered  that international law allows the death penalty only in cases of premeditated homicide, and Thailand has been admonished by the United Nations Human Rights Commission for persisting attaching the death penalty to drug related cases:
“14. The Committee notes with concern that the death penalty is not restricted to the “most serious crimes” within the meaning of article 6, paragraph 2, and is applicable to drug trafficking”  Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee, on the occasion of Thailand’s report in Geneva  on its observance on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. CCPR/CO/84/THA, 8 July 2005.
Thailand’s obligations under an International Treaty take precedence over national law. It follows that the death penalty sentence applied to most women in Thailand is illegal by international law. On the occasion when the admonition was declared, no excuse or explanation was offered by the official delegation.
Thailand has shown a face of mercy in the matter of pregnant women who are condemned to death. By a Royal Decree on 30th August 2007, the death sentence in their case is commuted to life imprisonment. A comment to the law explains the motivation of clemency is “so that the child may experience the care of a mother and grow to be a good member of society”
The last sentence shows a fine sensitivity of the role of a mother. Logically such sensitivity should extend to all prisoners who are mothers, or women whose caring nature is an essential aspect of our society.
Only three women have been executed in modern Thai history. It is not a great step to extend commutation of the death sentence to all condemned women. 

Execution of Women 3 - Thailand

“Look for the woman”, is a famous phrase in French literature to indicate that when man commits a crime, there is always involvement of a woman. However, in crime committed by a woman, there is even greater     certainty that a man is involved.
In Thailand this is true, especially in death sentences for drug related crimes. In the storage and delivery of drugs it seems that the initiative must come from men. There was a well known case of two Cambodian sisters who were condemned to death for storing a large quantity of drugs foisted on them by one they claimed was a naval officer. They ran a market stall in the border area and had grown up in Cambodia where there is no death penalty; it is unlikely that the man who asked them to store the drugs told them that it was otherwise in Thailand. Once at a meeting on the death penalty, I raised the issue with the Minister of Justice who was a speaker. His reply was that Thailand does not execute women. Would that this were indeed so!
At least in recent times, Thailand has executed one woman. Her execution was a shocking event of which there are several partial accounts. An official who walked with her to the execution chamber attempted to flirt with her to count him as her last boyfriend, with the misplaced intention of distracting her from her awful fate. She was tied to the execution post and executed with a burst of machine gun fire. Then her body was carried to a small side room, while preparations were made to execute another prisoner. Moans were heard from the side room indicating that the woman was still alive. Officials rushed in; one tried to pump blood form her wounds to hasten death while another is said to have tried to smother her. The executioner insisted that she be brought back to the execution chamber, tied again to the post, and the execution repeated. Why did the accused survive heavy caliber machine gun fire? The executioner surmised that he had been nervous to execute a woman and aimed badly. Another commentator has suggested that the location of the woman’s heart indicated on a white cloth between the prisoner and the executioner had been indicated wrongly, due to the hesitation of a “doctor” to touch her breast in the execution chamber. Whatever, the case shows the inevitable errors that often accompany executions and reveal the truth behind the claim that executions are always clinically painless.
A final posting in this series on the execution of women will draw conclusions for Thailand.

Execution of Women 2 - France

France: In the past executions were carried out in public in the belief that seeing a criminal die would deter others from crime. At a time when executions throughout Europe were accompanied by vicious torture, women were burned to death on charges of witchcraft. The revolution of 1789 introduced the guillotine, a relatively humane instrument of death.

Georgette Thomas, accused of having burnt her mother was the last woman guillotined in public. It was a horrific event and the public executioner asked to be excused from this type of execution in the future. Later, Presidents systematically pardoned women who were sentenced to death. However during World War II, Marshal Pétain, Rresident of Vichy France who collaborated with German occupation, sent five women to the guillotine. One woman maddened by the prospect of the guillotine refused to dress and was guillotined naked.
With the restoration of democracy after the war it was expected that the execution of women would again cease. But under a lawyer President two more women were executed in 1947 and 1949. Then it ended From 1949 on, all women sentenced to death were pardoned. Men would continue to be executed until September 1977 . The death penalty was abolished in French law in 1981.
There is thus good precedent for treating the execution of women as a separate issue from that of men, where human compassion realizes more readily the unacceptability of capital punishment.
“Look for the woman”, is a famous phrase in French literature to indicate that when man commits a crime, there is somewhere involvement of a woman. However, in crime committed by a woman, there is even greater certainty that a man is involved, whether as the tormentor of a woman who finally reacts with violence, or as the one who incites the woman to the crime.

Execution of Women 1 - England

The execution of women is an atrocious affair. Most of us have experienced the protection from injury given us by a woman when we were children. An urge to protect women, the source of life, is deep in the human psyche. And yet women are executed, of course by a male executioner.
Consider examples;
Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be executed in England, was hanged on 13th July 1955. She was 28 years old and night club entertainer. She had been abused and beaten by many men. Finally, after an abortion induced by a kick to her stomach by a ‘lover’, she took a gun and shot him dead. She confessed the crime, was condemned to death, and despite many appeals for her life from throughout the world, England’s most efficient hangman broke her neck only ten seconds after she entered the execution chamber;
Raymond Chandler, a famous American crime writer wrote:
“This thing haunts and, so far as I may say it, disgusts me as something obscene. I am not referring to the trial, of course, but to the medieval savagery of the law. I have been tormented for a week at the idea that a highly civilised people should put a rope round the neck of Ruth Ellis and drop her through a trap and break her neck. This was a crime of passion under considerable provocation. No other country in the world would hang this woman.”
Revulsion against the hanging of Ruth Ellis raised the question “Should a woman hang?”, and, logically, the further question “Should anybody be hanged?”. Ten years later the answer became a clear “No”. In 1965 the death penalty in England was suspended, and abolished for ever after another five years, when it was confirmed that the absence of the death penalty did not affect the murder rate.