Joint statement: Civil society organizations call for a prompt investigation into the alleged torture of a suspected insurgent and urge the government to pass legislation criminalizing torture and ill-treatment

23 July 2019

On 21 July 2019, at around 3:00 am, Mr. Abdullah Isomuso, a suspected insurgent, was found unconscious inside the Inquiry Unit of Ingkhayutthaborihan Military Camp in Pattani Province. He was sent to the Ingkhayutthaborihan Camp Hospital for primary treatment and thereafter referred to the Pattani Provincial Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU) due to the severity of his injury. According to the information received, his doctor found a high amount of excess fluid inside his brain which caused a prolonged shortage of oxygen, thereby leading to cerebral edema. However, reportedly, there was no visible physical injury on his body.

Mr. Abdullah has been arrested and detained under the Martial Law on 20 July 2019 for suspected involvement in unknown insurgent activity. At around 4:00 pm, officials from the 44th Special Ranger Taskforce searched his house in Sai Buri District of Pattani Province and took Mr. Abdullah into their custody. The authorities initially took him to Sai Buri Police Station to file a report about his arrest and later took him to the Inquiry Unit run by the 43rd Special Ranger Taskforce inside Ingkhayutthaborihan Military Camp. Shortly after, at 9:00 am on the next day, his relatives were informed that he had been admitted to the Pattani Provincial Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.

At the moment, several civil society groups and individuals from the southern border provinces have publicly expressed their concerns that Mr. Abdullah might have been subjected to torture while he was detained in the military camp. Civil society organizations co-signing this statement note that Mr. Abdullah is only one among more than 6,000 individuals held in military detention under the special laws, including the Martial Law Act and the Emergency Decree, since 2004. Such laws authorize military officers to search any residents and arrest any individuals suspected of being involved in security-related matters without official warrants.  The suspect can also be put in military detention for interrogation up to 37 days without being charged. According to the information received, the suspect usually has limited access to lawyers and a short period of daily family visitation. During the 15 years of armed conflicts in Thailand’s southern border, during which these laws have been enforced throughout the region, the Cross-Cultural Foundation (CrCF), a national NGO that extensively documents torture across Thailand, has received a number of complaints of alleged torture and ill-treatment of the detainees by security officers inside military detention facilities. We highlight that the facts of Mr. Abdullah’s case appear to match the general pattern of alleged torture that we have consistently observed in this region.

An act of torture is unconstitutional and violates Thailand’s international legal obligations to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT). In 2014, after reviewing Thailand’s compliance with the CAT, the Committee Against Torture has expressed its grave concerns regarding “the numerous, ongoing and consistent allegations about the routine use of torture and ill-treatment by security and military officials in the southern border provinces to obtain confessions.” The Committee also emphasizes that the application of special laws only exacerbates the armed conflict and legitimize human rights abuses by security officers, thereby further perpetuating the culture of impunity in Thailand.

The Cross-Cultural Foundation, together with all the civil society organizations and individuals co-signing this statement, urges relevant government officers and authorities to take the following actions:

1.    Set up a fact-finding committee for the case of Mr. Abdullah Isomuso. The Committee shall be led by academics, community leaders, representatives from civil society organizations, and government officers from civilian agencies. The government must ensure the Committee members’ power to access all kinds of evidence. Importantly, this Committee must be independent of national security agencies to avoid the conflict of interests in order to maintain the objectivity of its investigation. Committee members shall also take into consideration the fact that there are several methods of torture, such as waterboarding, that leave no visible trace on the body yet have serious impacts on the victim’s physical and mental health. Therefore, the committee should also seek consultations with forensic medical experts to ensure the effectiveness of the investigation.

2.    If it can be established that Mr. Abdullah was subjected to torture and ill-treatment in military custody, the responsible authorities have to be held accountable and offer compensation and remedies to the injured party to ensure his physical and mental rehabilitation or to restitute such physical and mental capabilities as much as possible. The officers and individuals involved with the commission of the offense have to be brought to justice and disciplined to restore public trust in the officers and the government.

3.    Security officers must follow human rights principles and strive to prevent and end torture and ill-treatment in order to forge public trusts in the government and bring peace to Thailand’s southern border.

4.    The Thai government shall pass a domestic law that criminalizes and prevents torture and enforced disappearances. The law must include all the important human rights safeguards guaranteed under international human rights standards laid out in the Convention Against Torture and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

5.    We reiterate the Committee Against Torture’s concerns regarding the sweeping power of security officers under the special laws to search, arrest, and detain the suspect without any check-and-balance mechanisms. The past 15 years have shown that these laws are an ineffective means of resolving the conflict in Thailand’s southern border provinces. We, therefore, ask national security agencies to consider stopping the enforcement of special laws in arresting and detaining the suspect and take recourse to normal criminal procedures.

6.    During such consideration, we urge relevant government agencies to come up with proper measures to prevent torture and any other forms of human rights violations against arrestees and detainees. These measures shall be in line with international standards; for instance, the detainee’s relatives shall be allowed to visit their family member in military detention for at least 30 minutes. The detainees should have the right to access legal counsel of their choice. Independent organizations, especially the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT) and civil society organizations, must be authorized to conduct a regular and unannounced inspection of detention facilities and be able to freely interview the detainees without advanced notification. Furthermore, any mechanisms set up to investigate allegations of torture shall be inclusive of all the concerned parties and stakeholders.

7.    The government shall issue a standard guideline and code of ethics for its officials as per international human rights standards and the rule of law. Any officials who neglect or violate such rules shall be held accountable under the law and other disciplinary measures.

The following organizations and individuals hereby endorse this statement:

Non-governmental organizations

1.       Cross-Cultural Foundation (CrCF)

2.       Thai Lawyers For Human Rights (TLHR)

3.       Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA)

4.       Union of Civil Liberty (UCL)

5.       Community Resource Center (CRC)

6.       Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF)

7.       Duayjai Group

8.       Patani Human Rights Organization Network (HAP)

9.       JASAD Group

Individuals:

1.     Sahari Jehlong

2.     Asama Mangkornchai

3.     Solar Gasia

4.     Abdulsuko Din-a

5.     Taweesak Pee

6.     Muhammad Rusdy Sheikh Haroon