Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Setback for abolition in Thailand

Horrendous events such as reported below are setting back the approach to abolition in Thailand. We must admit that we are at the ultimate boundaries of decision. We must persist in rejecting execution as a solution. Vengeance achieves nothing, fails as a deterrent, and exacerbates the culture of violence. Which is not to deny in any way the horror of the crime. 

Train rapist sentenced to death
  Published: 30/09/2014 at 01:53 PM
   PRACHUAP KHIRI KHAN - The Hua Hin provincial court has sentenced a railway employee to death for murder and aggravated rape of a young girl in July on a train heading to Bangkok whose body was later found beside the railway track.
The court on Tuesday found Wanchai Sangkhao, the first defendant in the case, guilty of several counts.
He was sentenced to death for murder, nine years in jail for raping a girl under 15, five years in prison for stealing while on public tranport vehicles at night, one year for hiding a body and six months for drug abuse.
The gravest penalty of death prevails.
The court rejected Wanchai's claim for mercy because he had confessed in an act of repentance. The court said Wanchai confessed because he had no choice as the evidence against him was so strong. There were no grounds for commutation of sentence.
Nattakorn Chamnarn, 19, the second defendant who was charged with helping another person rape a girl under 15, confessed during the investigation, but denied the charge in court.
Nattakorn was sentenced to six years in prison as an accessory. Since he confessed during the investigation stage, the penalty was commuted by a third to four years.
Wanchai, 22, a sleeper-car employee of the Railway of Thailand, confessed to raping on July 5 a 13-year-old girl, a Mathayom 2 student at Satrinonthaburi School, while she was asleep in a bunk of a carriage on the No.174 Nakhon Si Thammarat-Bangkok express train.
Wanchai subsequently threw her out the window, even though she was still breathing. She was killed by the fall. Searchers later found her body beside the rail track.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Abolition of death penalty in Chad

It is with great good wishes that we welcome abolition of the death penalty in another Muslim country. We who work for abolition of the death penalty in Thailand are united with our Muslim brothers. Most death penalty sentences in Thailand are now imposed in the Southern Border Provinces, Muslim provinces, of Thailand. We join with them in opposing an unjust legal system which follows faulty legal procedures to impose death sentences. We welcome news that a Muslim country abolishes this ultimate denial of the most basic of all human rights.

Chad: The draft Penal Code abolishes capital punishment but severely condemns homosexuality

Ndjamena, Paris, New York, Nairobi, 16 September 2014 – The new draft Penal code adopted by the Council of Ministers on 4, September 2014, provides for the abolition of the capital punishment in Chad in conformity with the repeated requests made by the civil society for several years, and constitutes an important step forward in the respect of the right to life, right to fair trial and the interdiction of torture and, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. Chad had adopted a moratorium on executions since 1991, before nine executions took place on 8 and 9 November 2003. Since then, the Chadian authorities have not executed any convicts.
«  The abolition of the death penalty in Chad is a major step for the country and for Africa, however it is totally unacceptable that the same draft Penal Code heavily criminalizes homosexuality  » declared Sheila Mwenga Nabachua, FIDH Vice President.
The draft Penal code adopted on 4, September 2014 by the government also provides for the strengthening of sentences against people charged for homosexuality. The offence becomes a crime punishable by 15 to 20 years of prison and a fine of 50 000 to 500 000 FCFA according to the new article 361 bis of the Chadian draft Penal code.
«  Criminalizing homosexuality is discriminatory and demagogic, when Chad really needs social justice, democracy and development. Stigmatizing a group will not help build a tolerant and fair society  » declared Honorary LTDH President Dobian Assingar.
« The head of state and the National Assembly must ensure equality of all citizens before the law whatever their religion, their origin, their opinion or sexual orientation. The National Assembly must hence modify article 361 bis of the draft Penal code, and the President must not enact a draft Penal code with such a provision. The abolition of the death penalty is great news which must not be tarnished by the criminalization of homosexuality » added Drissa Traoré, FIDH Vice President


Tuesday, September 09, 2014


Thailand is considering replacing the death penalty by LWOP or life imprisonment without parole. The horror of this form of punishment is known only to those who experience it. A recent book composed mostly by LWOP prisoners themselves, gives some understanding of what is involved in imprisonment until death. One prisoner describes the situation of LWOP prisoners in a few words, “Life under LWOP is breathing, but not living”.
The prison writers are unanimous in being unable to understand how such a cruel punishment was conceived, or how it is being applied ever more frequently, even to children and for minor non-violent offenses, such as stealing three golf clubs.
The sentencing is summary under the mantra that LWOP is not a death penalty, and mistakes can be rectified afterwards. The sentences are passed without the supposed legal safeguards required for a death sentence. Nor are there the same possibilities of post sentence review, so that the theoretical possibility of review is not a real possibility.
The prison regime of LWOP is dehumanized and hopeless. Prisoners are soon forgotten by the outside world, whether their relatives or friends. The expectation is that they will die as soon as possible so as to free up more prison space for the increased LWOP prison population.
LWOP prisoners age quickly. “The incidence of chronic, age-related diseases skyrockets among older prisoners. We are sclerotic, arthritic, and cancerous far more than people of the same age outside the prison walls.”
In the US factories are migrating to low-wage countries; the prison industry is multiplying and LWOP prisoners promise long term employment for the companies which undertake the commercial administration of this inhuman industry. In Thailand, private hospitals, private education, and of course private housing are making many rich. The Government has already floated the idea that privatisation of prisons will be the next gold rush. Read this short book to see what will come with LWOP.
“All forms of the death penalty need to be discarded in a truly just society”
TOO CRUEL, NOT UNUSUAL ENOUGH, Kenneth E. Hartman, The Other Death Penalty Project, California, 2013   

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Will Thailand replace the death penalty with LWOP?

Since the 1970s the US has instituted a new and fearful punishment referred to as LWOP, life without parole. It was meant to replace a sentence of death, and is in fact a sentence of death in another form to capital punishment by gallows, electric chair, gas chamber, or lethal injection. LWOP is a sentence of waiting for death by illness or old age; it mandates no escape from a prison cell other than as a corpse.
Consider the implications of such a punishment. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the foundation of modern society and consists of 30 short affirmations relating to human beings. 22 of those short principles begin with the word “Everyone”, four use an implied equivalent such as “All”, or “Any person”. Besides, there are four prohibitions, for example against slavery or torture that use the negative universal “No one”. Clearly, the map of living established by the consensus of nations, does not envisage that human beings can be divided into two categories, those who are entitled to “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the inalienable rights of all members of the human family[i]”, and those who are non-persons without dignity or rights. And yet there are persons to whom “everyone” or its equivalent does not apply, and who are excluded from the prohibitions which should apply to no one. We may call them “no-ones”, human contradictions which should not, but do exist today[ii].
What is the fate of a “no-one”? A “no-one” has no right, no role, no function, other than to wait for death. Their gender is irrelevant; we may call them “it”. A “no-one” must be placed in isolation from humans, even from other “no-ones”, since any communication between them would be meaningless and could cause trouble. Ideally, the “no-ones” should be supplied with the basic food to maintain life, delivered automatically without any human contact. Their holding cell need not have any amenity or window, other than the bare necessity to preserve life. Since some measure of exercise is necessary, a door is opened automatically once a week to allow them solitary exercise in a bare enclosure. When the allotted time ends a voice orders them to return to their cell and the door closes.
Since there is no rehabilitation, no education of any kind, no entertainment, there is no need of prison staff with skills or responsibilities in human relations. It is best that the prison administration be entrusted to private companies who can handle meaningless services. Best too if the prison is underground as there is need only of entrance, and an exit of corpses, with service access for staff and supplies.
Today, the prison population of those condemned to LWOP, the “no-ones” in the US exceeds 50,000. There is no use in asking whether the “no-ones” deserve their punishment or not. Originally, intended as a replacement for the death penalty, LWOP is now extended even to being a punishment for petty crime, under such policies as the ‘three strike” penal policy, when three minor felonies may lead to the most extreme sentence ever devised.  Repeat petty criminals, or even juniors, may be subject to LWOP.
Will Thailand take this path of choosing the inhumanity of LWOP? Unfortunately, there is a great danger that it will. There is also the hidden threat revealed in the US experience. Once LWOP is introduced, it is extended to being a punishment for lesser crimes with the reasoning that not being the death penalty, its application is more easily accepted. The other factor which emerges is that once accepted as part of the legal code it is next to impossible to repeal, lacking the emotional resistance attached to the death penalty, and justified by an appeal to the absolute safety of society. Note also that in practice a sentence of LWOP is handed down without the protection of extra attention to legal certainty that should accompany passing of a death sentence.
There is a danger that a policy copied from the US, the self-proclaimed icon of human rights, will be uncritically adopted. The official proposal for abolition of the death penalty in Thailand adds the codicil, “and its replacement by life imprisonment”. But the implication is that this intends LWOP, as an assurance of absolute safety from repeat crime. Ominously, the replacement is accompanied by the suggestion of a large number of maximum security prisons. They would be located in remote areas implying a complete isolation of their “no-one” population. The concept that the prisons would be administered by commercial companies implies the absence of government responsibility for programmes of rehabilitation or humane management.
The result is a division between “everyone”, and a population of “no-ones” with no human characteristic.
Does Thailand not have the humanity and understanding to reject this awful choice?   

[i] Preamble: Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948
[ii] Significantly, a US prosecutor admits that he can recall the names of all those he prosecuted who were condemned to death, but cannot remember the name of a single one condemned to LWOP. See “Life without Parole: America’s New Death Penalty”, New York University Press, Chapter 5, 2012