I spent three days this week in Bangkok on a mission organised by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in order to explore issues of death penalty reform in Thailand and elsewhere in the region. My meetings involved several very senior government officials as well as NGO activists and academics. Before my departure, I delivered a lecture to post-graduate students at Thammasat University. It had been hoped that I would also be able to visit Singapore, but the trip did not take place and instead I had a two-hour skype meeting with several activists in that country who are working on reform of the death penalty.
Basically, the message is one of good news. Until about 2003, Thailand was regularly executing 8 to 10 people a year, with a focus on drug offences. From 2004 until 2009 there were no executions, but that year two convicted drug criminals were put to death. Since then, nothing.
|Pol. Col. Dr. Naras Savestanan, who is Director General of the Department of Rights and Liberties Protection of Thailand's Ministry of Justice.|
On Tuesday, I met with Wanchai Rujjanawong, who is Director-General of the International Affairs Department of the Office of the Attorney General. He assured me that the last execution in Thailand had taken place. Although he did not expect any legislative reform, he said that by 2019 we would be able to count Thailand as de facto abolitionist under the principle that a state that has not actually conducted an execution for ten years is deemed to have abolished the death penalty in fact.
I asked him if this was in writing anywhere, and he said that it was not. But he said ‘you can quote me’. And that is what I am doing.
Later that day I met the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice, Dr. Kittipong Kittayarak, as well as the Chair of the National Human Rights Commission and the Director General of the Department of Rights and Liberties Protection of the Ministry of Justice. Nothing they said suggested that Wanchai Rujjanawong had misread the situation.
My conclusion is that Thailand is now in a quite determined and intentional moratorium, although it is not yet prepared to declare so officially. It would be a step forward, I think, if they were prepared to state this and I suppose they will do so when they are ready.
There is a tendency when we talk about the global situation with respect to capital punishment to reduce this to simple numbers and a comparison of ‘abolitionist’ and ‘retentionist’ states. But among the dwindling number of states that still use the death penalty, there is huge variation in conduct. In many countries, the same progressive trend that we see in those states that have formally abolished capital punishment can be discerned.
It seems that the death penalty is disappearing with more of a whimper than with a bang.