Death penalty taints the record

Bangkok Post - - EDITORIAL & LETTERS -

Thai­land has missed a chance to be part of the world ma­jor­ity in mark­ing the in­ter­na­tional day against the death penalty this week af­ter it car­ried out the ex­e­cu­tion of a young con­vict in June amid high pub­lic­ity. A few days af­ter Theerasak Longji, con­victed of pre­med­i­tated mur­der in Trang in 2012, met his fi­nal fate, Prime Min­is­ter Prayut Chan-o-cha de­fended the need for the coun­try to main­tain the death penalty as a vi­tal tool for keep­ing peace and or­der and de­ter­ring se­vere crimes. Is it? The Prayut regime makes use of ques­tion­able pub­lic polls that came out in favour of the death sen­tence as a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the ex­e­cu­tions.

It should be noted that by the time the 26-year-old con­vict was put on his deathbed, the coun­try was on the verge of be­com­ing de facto abo­li­tion­ist, a sta­tus that is granted to coun­tries that have not car­ried out any ex­e­cu­tions for 10 con­sec­u­tive years.

Pre­vi­ously, Thai­land’s most re­cent ex­e­cu­tions were in Au­gust 2009 when two con­victed drug traf­fick­ers were killed by lethal in­jec­tion. Theerasak was the sev­enth con­vict to be ex­e­cuted by lethal in­jec­tion since the sys­tem was in­tro­duced in Thai­land in 2003.

By killing Theerasak on June 18, the regime broke re­peated prom­ises to work to­wards the abo­li­tion of cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment es­pe­cially when it cam­paigned for a seat on the United Na­tions Hu­man Rights Coun­cil in 2014. Two years later, dur­ing the se­cond United Na­tions-backed Univer­sal Pe­ri­odic Re­view of Thai­land, the regime agreed to take steps to­wards abo­li­tion. The abo­li­tion of cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment has also been a per­ma­nent and un­ful­filled goal of the coun­try’s Na­tional Hu­man Rights Plans since 2009.

Thai­land is among a few coun­tries in­clud­ing Ja­pan that still jus­tify cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment as a de­ter­rent to crimes, an ar­gu­ment that de­serves lengthy de­bate.

But what has the gov­ern­ment done in prac­tice to make progress to­wards abo­li­tion? The an­swer is sim­ple: noth­ing. In fact, un­der the rul­ing mil­i­tary junta, the Na­tional Coun­cil for Peace and Or­der (NCPO), au­thor­i­ties have taken steps that have con­tra­dicted and un­der­mined its stated com­mit­ment to work to­wards abo­li­tion of the death penalty.

Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion for Hu­man Rights, the coun­try has a bruised record al­ready given the rise in the num­ber of crimes pun­ish­able by death — from 55 in 2014 to 63 in 2018.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion in cit­ing fig­ures re­leased in April 2018 also pointed out that the num­ber of pris­on­ers on death row has also reached a four-year high, with 517 pris­on­ers, 415 men and 102 women, on death row. It’s found that nearly half of the men and 93% of the women had been found guilty of drug-re­lated of­fences.

In ad­di­tion, it noted that Thai­land has con­tin­ued to ab­stain from the United Na­tions Gen­eral As­sem­bly’s 2014 and 2016 res­o­lu­tions on the es­tab­lish­ment of a mora­to­rium on the use of the death penalty.

Just as Thai­land un­der the mil­i­tary regime has suf­fered a set­back on the road to abol­ish­ing the death penalty, our im­me­di­ate neigh­bour to the south, Malaysia, has made re­mark­able progress. This month, Kuala Lumpur said it would abol­ish the death penalty for all crimes and halt all pend­ing ex­e­cu­tions.

In what is de­scribed as a break­through, Malaysia’s Law Min­is­ter Liew Vui Keong an­nounced on Oct 10 that the gov­ern­ment had agreed to abol­ish the death penalty and that amendments to laws with cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment would be pre­sented when par­lia­ment re­sumes to­mor­row. The move, part of the new regime un­der Ma­hathir Mo­ham­mad’s election ear­lier this year, was re­ceived with praise from hu­man rights agen­cies which stressed the need to abol­ish the death penalty with­out “ex­cep­tions”.

Sooner rather than later, the Prayut regime will know that it can never rely on cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment as a de­ter­rence for crime. The death penalty is not ac­cept­able, es­pe­cially in a coun­try where the jus­tice sys­tem is rid­dled with flaws, with po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tions oc­ca­sion­ally un­der doubt, and scape­goats more than ram­pant. Shortly af­ter Theerasak was ex­e­cuted, a the­ory emerged that he might not be the killer.

In fact, pre­ven­tion, through strong so­cial and eth­i­cal mea­sures, should be the key to tack­ling crime. More im­por­tantly, life im­pris­on­ment, with­out a com­mut­ing term, is a more ac­cept­able and ef­fi­cient pun­ish­ment choice for peo­ple com­mit­ting heinous crimes. The regime must know that by not aban­don­ing cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment, Thai­land’s hu­man rights record will con­tinue to be stained.

On top of that, the coun­try has an obli­ga­tion to hon­our its prom­ise that it will scrap cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment. It should not hes­i­tate to show po­lit­i­cal will on this se­ri­ous mat­ter.

This can start with the coun­try vot­ing in favour of the up­com­ing UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly res­o­lu­tion on the mora­to­rium on the use of the death penalty in De­cem­ber.

The death penalty is not ac­cept­able, es­pe­cially in a coun­try where the jus­tice sys­tem is rid­dled with flaws.

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