Covering events from January - December 2002
KINGDOM OF THAILAND
Head of state: King Bhumibol Adulyadej
Head of government: Thaksin Shinawatra
Death penalty: retentionist
International Criminal Court: signed
Five people were executed by machine-gun fire during 2002. At least 17 others were sentenced to death, bringing the total number of people under sentence of death at the end of the year to more than 600. Over 130,000 mostly Karen and Karenni refugees from Myanmar were living in refugee camps near the border, while Shan refugees were not allowed into camps. In February police announced that they had discovered the bodies of some 20 Karen migrant workers. Investigations were initiated into these murders but the results were not known at the end of the year. Land rights disputes continued in many parts of the country, including Lamphun, Ubon Ratchathani, Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, and Songkla provinces. The rights of hill tribe people without full Thai citizenship to land, health care, and education continued to be extremely limited.
In March the government initiated a crack-down on the media, including foreign publications. The same month the Anti-Money Laundering Office launched investigations into the financial activities of Thai journalists critical of the government, in what was widely viewed as a politically motivated move.
In May the Shan State Army-South (SSA-South), an armed opposition group based in Myanmar, attacked Myanmar military bases near the Thai border. In response the Myanmar government closed the border between Myanmar and Thailand. The border was not reopened until October. The United Wa State Army (UWSA), a Myanmar-based armed opposition group which agreed a cease-fire with the government and was widely believed to be involved in illegally bringing methamphetamine drugs into Thailand, and the Thai army engaged in skirmishes in March, April, and May. Battles between Myanmar armed forces and armed opposition groups spilled over into Thai territory during the year, temporarily displacing Thai civilians.
Five people were executed in Bangkwang Maximum Security Prison, where all executions take place. Three had been convicted of murder and two of drugs trafficking. New legislation providing for the method of execution to be changed from machine-gun fire to lethal injection and also disallowing the execution of anyone under the age of 18 was promulgated in November. Some 70 per cent of the over 600 people under sentence of death had reportedly been convicted of drug-related charges.
Torture and ill-treatment
Three Karenni refugees, one of whom was 15 years old, were raped by soldiers in March. The women were attacked while they were gathering vegetables outside Karenni refugee Camp 2 near Mae Hong Son. Three soldiers were arrested in connection with the attack and remained in detention but at the end of the year it was not known if they had been tried and sentenced.
Overcrowding in prisons and the shackling of death-row prisoners continued although the Corrections Department took steps to reform the prison system, including training prison guards in human rights. Almost 260,000 people were reportedly held in prisons designed to hold some 100,000 prisoners. Cells in prisons and police stations were in some cases so crowded that inmates could not lie down on the floor to sleep at the same time. In April, 15 juveniles who had escaped from the Baan Ubekkha Juvenile Detention Centre, Samut Prakan Province, said that they had been ill-treated there.
Prisoner of conscience
Sok Yoeun, a Cambodian refugee and prisoner of conscience in poor health who was arrested in Thailand in 1999 for "illegal immigration", continued to be detained and remained at risk of being extradited to Cambodia. In November a court ruled that he should be extradited; his lawyers immediately appealed against the decision.
Ethnic minorities and rural people
Twenty-six farmers and land rights activists were arrested in Lamphun Province in April and May; some were charged with over 40 offences, including trespassing. By the end of the year all had been released on bail and an unknown number were standing trial. The 26 were arbitrarily arrested and seven were detained without bail for six weeks in extremely overcrowded conditions. The authorities claimed that the farmers were cultivating privately owned land, although there was compelling evidence of widespread corruption in issuing land deeds for property and that some of the land had originally been given to farmers by the authorities.
In September a group of elderly villagers protesting against the Pak Mun Dam project were dragged from Ubon Ratchathani town hall and roughly treated by inebriated paramilitary forces. In December their protest sites in Bangkok and at the Pak Mun Dam in Ubon Ratchathani Province were destroyed by unidentified assailants amid protests that the government did not protect the protesters. Also in December, police clashed with demonstrators in Hat Yai, Songkla Province, southern Thailand, when the latter gathered in order to hand over a petition to the Prime Minister protesting against the construction of a natural gas pipeline from Malaysia to Thailand. Members of both groups were injured amid claims that the police had charged peaceful protesters with batons. The National Human Rights Commission initiated an investigation.
Human rights defenders
Human rights defenders, particularly land rights activists, were subjected to surveillance, harassment, and intimidation.
- In July a hill tribe leader belonging to the Akha tribe was arrested by police without a warrant at the Chiang Mai airport and taken to her house which was then ransacked by police. After the police left her property she and her family experienced threats and other forms of harassment for several months.
- In June unidentified gunmen shot at a farmer and village leader in Chai Prakan district, Chiang Mai Province. He survived the attack although he was hit in the chest. By the end of the year, an investigation into the incident had not been completed by the police and the leader was in hiding.
- A leader of the Pak Mun Dam protesters continued to be denied a passport and continued to receive anonymous threats.
Police announced in February that they had found in western Tak Province the bodies of more than 20 migrant workers belonging to the Karen ethnic minority from Myanmar . Their throats had been cut. They had been blindfolded and their wrists were tied behind their backs. No one had been brought to justice in connection with their murders by the end of the year.
In March the bodies of 13 migrant workers from Myanmar were found in Prachin Buri Province. Preliminary investigations indicated that they had been dumped there after suffocating to death hidden under a load of vegetables in a truck. By the end of the year, it was not known if anyone had been brought to justice.
Two separate groups of migrant workers and dissidents from Myanmar were arrested in August and again in December in Sangklaburi, Kanchanaburi Province, bordering Myanmar. In each instance both groups were released a few days after their arrest.
Refugees from Myanmar continued to arrive in significant numbers and stayed in camps along the Myanmar border, although the government refused to register them. Shan refugees, who also continued to enter the country in large numbers, were still denied access to refugee camps.
In December the newly appointed National Security Council Chief announced that Thailand would begin forcibly returning asylum-seekers from neighbouring countries to their country of origin.
AI delegates visited Thailand in February, March and November.
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