international treaties on human rights and the death penalty:
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (made reservation to the interpretation of Art. 6 which prohibits the death penalty for minors)
Convention on the Rights of the Child
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Statute of the International Criminal Court (which excludes the death penalty) (only signed)
The Criminal Code prescribes the death penalty under 55 different articles, for various criminal offenses, including: offences against the King and Royal family (art. 107-110); premeditated murder; rape resulting in death; kidnapping; terrorism; espionage; treason; economic crimes; and drug-related offenses.
Other laws that contain provisions for the death penalty include: the 1947 Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, Fireworks, and the Equivalent of Firearms Act; the 1979 Narcotics Act; the 1999 Anti-Corruption Law, as amended on 9 July 2015, when the National Legislative Assembly passed amendments to this Act, imposing a the death penalty or life imprisonment, on foreign public officials, international organisation workers and state officials who have demanded or accepted bribes; the 2008 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, as amended on 26 March 2015, when the National Legislative Assembly passed amendments to this Act, allowing the death penalty in trafficking cases resulting in death; and the 2015 Act Regarding Offenses Relating to Air Travel which prescribes the death penalty for those found guilty of acts involving lethal force, which cause the closure of an airport or damage airport facilities or aircraft.
On 24 November 2016, the Legislative Assembly adopted the Narcotic Act (Vol. 6) 2016, which abolished the mandatory death penalty for the offence of selling drugs [see the chapter: The War on Drugs].
Under Article 246 of the Criminal Procedure Code, pregnant women are exempted from the death penalty and are allowed to care for their newborn child in a suitable place within the prison for up to one year after the birth.
Article 18 of the Criminal Code prohibits the imposition of the death penalty on children under the age of 18. On May 9, 2003 Thailand's Senate approved the bill banning capital punishment and life imprisonment for convicts younger than 18, the maximum penalty for juveniles being set at 50 years in jail.
Insane prisoners are also spared execution, at least until they recover. If their treatment takes more than one year, the sentence is commuted to life.
According to the Thai Penal Code, prisoners who receive the death sentence can appeal for a royal pardon. The appeal must be made within 60 days of the verdict. Each prisoner can appeal only once.
If the pardon is granted, execution will be commuted to life imprisonment.
It is never known in advance when a death warrant is to be issued, and executions are performed only once in a while. Usually a death warrant arrives in the morning and the execution takes place in the evening of the same day. Before the day of execution, the police will take fingerprints from the prisoner to compare them to those in the prisoner's file to ensure that the wrong person is not executed.
If the prisoner is a Buddhist, monks will be invited to give a sermon, followed by the reading of the death sentence by the prison director.
Thailand has repeatedly stated its intention to consider abolishing capital punishment.
During a conference of several Southeast Asian governments on prospects for abolishing the death penalty, held in Bangkok on 22-23 October 2013, Thailand’s Ministry of Justice announced that the government would soon propose legislation to abolish the death penalty and was considering ratifying the ICCPR-OP2.
On 22 July 2014, in a letter to the UNGA President which contained Thailand’s human rights pledges and commitments as part of its candidature for a seat at the United Nations Human Rights Council for the 2015-2017 term, Thailand pledged to “study the possibility” of abolishing capital punishment.
Thailand may abolish the death penalty under the Third National Human Rights Plan for the years 2014-2018. “The goal of the plan is to abolish death penalty,” said Chanchao Chaiyanukit, deputy permanent secretary of the Ministry of Justice. Bowornsak Uwanno, the head of the junta-appointed Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC), said he planned to add a clause in the new Constitution to explicitly ban the death penalty in Thailand.
In late December 2014, Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice Mr. Chanchao Chaiyanukit reiterated that the goal of the third National Human Rights Plan was to abolish death penalty, provided the Ministry could “convince the public.”
In a joint submission prepared by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) to the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council in April 2016 it is written that “many of the official statements have made the abolition of the death penalty contingent on the support of public opinion. Regrettably, successive governments have failed to provide the general public with relevant information to have an informed opinion on the issues related to the death penalty.
From January to March 2014, Mahidol University and the Ministry of Justice’s Department of Rights and Liberties Protection conducted a survey of 1,073 people in five different regions of Thailand and in Bangkok on the death penalty. The poll found that 68.7% of respondents were in favor of the death penalty, while 22.1% were in favor of abolition, and 9.2% were unsure. In an online survey conducted by the same university in 2014, 88% of the 1,301 respondents said they were in favor of the death penalty, 9% were in favor of abolition, and 3% were unsure.
However, the study was conducted without providing respondents with sufficient analysis and unbiased information regarding key aspects of the application of the death penalty. For example, the survey listed a number of arguments in favor of the death penalty that would lead respondents to believe that capital punishment is an effective deterrent against crime and that abolition would lead to greater killing.
As a result of this failure to adequately inform the general public on issues surrounding the death penalty, Thai officials have conveniently claimed that the country is not ready for abolition because public opinion overwhelmingly supports capital punishment. This notion is reflected by the words of Thailand’s Justice Minister Mr. Paiboon Koomchaya, who, on 14 July 2015, said that Thailand could not yet abolish capital punishment because it was “deeply-rooted in the mind and attitude of Thai people.” In addition, government officials and politicians have occasionally made public statements in support of the death penalty, particularly in reaction to the commission of heinous crimes. For example, following the rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl on a Bangkok-bound train on 6 July 2014, Udon Thani Governor Mr. Seni Chittakasem expressed support for the murderer to receive a death sentence. Democrat Party spokespers on Mr. Chavanond Intarakomalyasut declared that the culprit should be executed to set an example”.
In 2016, for the seventh consecutive year, no execution has been recorded in Thailand. Although Thailand did not perform any judicial executions between 2004 and 2008, the practice resumed in August 2009, when two men convicted of drug trafficking were executed by lethal injection in the Prison of Bang Khwang in Bangkok. Thailand has executed 325 convicts, including 3 women, since 1934, when it began using firing squads instead of beheadings, according to government figures.
Figures provided to Amnesty International by the authorities of Thailand state that 216 new death sentences were imposed in 2016. A total of 427 people, including 24 foreign nationals, remained under sentence of death at the end of the year. Figures released by the Ministry of Justice in September indicated that at that time 213 people were under sentence of death for drug-related offences. In 2015, the new death sentences imposed were 7 and 55 in 2014. As of 31 December 2015, there were 413 people on death row, including 50 women, according to the Department of Corrections. About 55% had been convicted of drug-related offences.
The War on Drugs
Drug-related offenses represent a disproportionate share of the crimes for which a death sentence is imposed. Thirty-seven per cent of the men and 80% of the women who were under death sentences as of 31 May 2015 had been found guilty of drug-related offenses.
On November 24, 2016, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) approved the new amendments to Thailand’s Narcotics Act. The changes were unanimously voted 196 Yes and 0 No. The drug law took effect on 15 January 2017. Under the former Narcotics Act BE2522 (1979), anyone in possession of drugs was automatically assumed to be intending to sell them. But the new amendments lift this assumption. The key changes adopted by the country’s National Assembly concern reductions in penalties for possession, import/export and production for sale. These legislative amendments also modify how culpability is determined, replacing mandatory sentences (in cases where the amounts seized exceed a designated threshold) with a rebuttable presumption of the intention to sell controlled drugs. In this new framework, the role of lawyers could be significantly more important, as the legal defence is given broader latitude to put forward evidence and arguments to contest the presumed supply offence.
The new article 65 (2) is less punitive for "the sale of drugs" and instead of death penalty the new punishment is “life imprisonment and a fine of 1 million baht - 5 million baht, or death penalty”. Also for "those who produce, import or export" the penalty is less punitive: “Imprisonment ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment and a fine of 1 million baht - 5 million baht”. The reform momentum was driven largely by serious problems with prison overcrowding and a burgeoning prison population. Thailand has the largest prison population in Southeast Asia and the 6th largest in the world, along with the world’s highest rate of female incarceration, 70% in relation to minor drug offences. The Narcotics Act institutes 5 categories of drugs as follows: Category 1: Heroin; Amphetamine; Methamphetamine; MDMA (Ecstasy); LSD; Category 2: Cocaine; Codeine; Methadone; Morphine; Category 3: Narcotics in the form of medicinal formulas containing narcotics of Category 2; Category 4: Narcotics which consist of chemicals used for producing narcotics in Category 1 or 2, such as acetic anhydride, or acetyl chloride and and Category 5: Cannabis, psychoactive mushrooms, and the kratom plant. The most serious penalties refer to the first category for more than 3 grams.
On 11 May 2016, Thailand was reviewed under the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council. The Government only supported limited recommendations with regard to the death penalty, that is: to take concrete steps towards abolishing the death penalty; to reconsider the abolition of the death penalty as a sentence for various crimes; and to review the imposition of the death penalty for offences related to drug trafficking. In the final remarks, the Thailand delegation led by the minister of justice orally mentioned that even though some 80 per cent of Thais are against the abolition of the death penalty, the government is committed to work towards abolition. The country’s intention was reaffirmed in the Third National Human Rights Plan. The delegation said that Thailand’s plan towards abolition will be carried out in three stages. In the first stage, there will be a return of discretion in sentencing to judges for offences that carry the death penalty. In the second stage, there will the abolition of death penalty for certain offences. And lastly, the death penalty will be abolished.
On December 19, 2016, Thailand abstained on the Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly. It is the forth consecutive time that Thai delegates abstained on voting on the motion; Thailand voted ‘no’ in 2008 and 2007, when the motion was first introduced to the UN General Assembly.