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Thailand’s Constitutional Court strikes down decree postponing anti-torture law enforcement

The government’s decision to delay the implementation of the anti-torture law has faced strong criticism. After a petition by the opposition, the Constitutional Court has declared the postponement unconstitutional, resulting in the retroactive enforcement of the act.

Photo: Luke Duggleby/HaRDstories
Photo: Luke Duggleby/HaRDstories

BANGKOK – In a resolute 8-1 vote, the Constitutional Court struck down an executive decree that had postponed the enforcement of four critical articles within the Act on Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance. The court declared the decree, issued on 19 February by the Prayut Chan-o-cha Cabinet, a violation of Article 172 of the Constitution, which strictly limits the use of such decrees to national emergencies and urgent matters.

The invalidated articles, 22 to 25, will now retroactively take effect from 22 February, along with all other provisions of the Act. These articles mandate state officials to maintain continuous audio and video surveillance of suspects, document grounds for arrest or detention, inform relatives or lawyers of detainees, and permit the withholding of information from the public if it compromises privacy or hampers investigations.

The government’s decision to delay the enforcement of the anti-torture law until 1 October drew criticism from Thai experts and international organisations, including the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Constitutional Court’s ruling followed a petition by 99 opposition Members of Parliament questioning the constitutionality of the postponement decree.

 

Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, Human Rights expert and the Special Rapporteur of human rights in Cambodia gives a talk to Thai military personnel and government officials on the issue of torture and enforced disappearance in Songklah in December, 2020. Photo: Luke Duggleby


Torture and forced disappearances have long plagued Thailand, particularly in the Deep South where security forces possess special powers under martial law to combat the insurgency. Human Rights Watch reports that the majority of cases remain unresolved, with little accountability for those responsible. The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances recorded 82 cases of enforced disappearance in Thailand since 1980, including the high-profile case of Somchai Neelapaijit, a Muslim lawyer who disappeared in March 2004 while defending suspected insurgents.

The Anti-Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act, passed in August 2022, was seen as a significant step in combating human rights abuses in the country. Its enforcement had been scheduled for 22 February, but the Royal Thai Police requested a delay, citing the need for additional time to procure equipment and prepare for implementation. However, the Constitutional Court’s ruling has now nullified the postponement, making the Act fully enforceable since 22 February.

The court’s decision signifies a victory for human rights advocates who have long called for stronger measures against torture and enforced disappearance in Thailand. It is now crucial for the government to ensure that law enforcement agencies, particularly the Royal Thai Police, comply with the Act and take necessary steps to prevent human rights violations.