Amnesty International cites 34 cases of torture in south Thailand

Amnesty International (AI) on Tuesday exposed at least 34 documented cases of authorities torturing Muslim insurgents in Thailand's conflictive south, four of whom died, and called on the government to clarify its legal stance on the practice, reported dpa.

"All the victims were Muslim, all but one were male, and 20 of them were under the age of 30; the youngest was a boy of six, the oldest 46," said the AI report titled Thailand: Torture in the Southern Counter-Insurgency, based on testimony compiled between mid-2007 and mid-2008.

Thailand has been waging a counterinsurgency campaign in the deep South, comprising the provinces Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala and parts of Songkhla, since January 4, 2004, when a group of Muslim militants raided an army depot in the region, stealing more than 300 weapons and killing four soldiers.

The incident led to a series of government crackdowns on the region's long-simmering separatist movement that further alienated the local population from Thailand's Bangkok-based governments.

The majority of people in the deep south, once known as the independent Islamic sultanate of Pattani, have a long history of alienation from predominantly Buddhist Thailand.

Although the region was conquered by Bangkok about 200 years ago, it has never wholly submitted to Thai rule.             

Over the past five years the intensified separatist struggle has led to at least 3,500 deaths, with much of the violence perpetrated by the separatists.

"The insurgents in southern Thailand have engaged in brutal acts, but nothing justifies the security forces reliance on torture," said Donna Guest, deputy director of AI's Asia-Pacific programme.

In late 2005, former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra placed the region under emergency decree, giving authorities immunity from prosecution while conducting official duties.

The region with a population of about 2 million, 80 per cent of whom are Muslim, remains under emergency decree.

Amnesty International called on new Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to lift the decree or at least remove the immunity clause for security personnel.

"The best way to tackle torture is to tackle the issue of immunity," said Guest. "Unless alleged perpetrators are brought to justice for torture, there will be no change to the behaviour."

Thailand prohibits torture under Article 32 in its constitution, and the country has ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture, providing legal grounds to prosecute perpetrators even if they are provided immunity under the emergency decree.

"What we're pointing out is this inconsistency," said Benjamin Zawacki, the main researcher of the report.

"[The] emergency decree seems to, not explicitly allow torture, but provides conditions under which it can be facilitated, go undetected in the short term and prosecuted in the long term," Zawacki said.

Besides granting authorities immunity, the decree also allows security personnel to detain suspects without charges for up to 30 days.

Amnesty International also recommended the new Thai government close all detention centres in the south - of which it located at least 21 - and allow detainees to receive visits from relatives, lawyers and medical personnel.

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