1. Academic information from international community about death penalty
(1) World Day Against the Death Penalty was first launched in 2013 by the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (WCADP) and since then 10 October has been marked as World Day Against the Death Penalty.
(2) Abolitionist and Retentionist Countries in the World According to the 2016 report on executions and death penalty worldwide, more than two thirds of the countries in the world are abolitionist countries which have either abolish death penalty in law or in practice. As of 31 December 2016, (1) 104 countries have abolished death penalty for all crimes, (2) seven countries have abolished death penalty for ordinary crimes, and (3) 30 countries have been abolitionist in practice, altogether (1) to (3) 141 countries, save for 57 retentionists.
(3) Abolitionist and Retentionist Countries in ASEAN As to the number of ASEAN countries that are abolitionist and retentionist, it can be described as follows (1) countries that have abolished death penalty for all crimes including Cambodia and the Philippines, (2) countries that have abolished death penalty in practice including Brunei, Burma and Laos, and (3) countries that retain death penalty including Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand.
(4) The use of death penalty and the number of death row inmates
Execution has been carried out through various means at times. During 1935-2003, the death penalty was implemented by shooting. The number of death row prisoners executed by shooting is altogether 319 including 316 males and three females.
On 18 September 2003, Thailand has changed execution method from firing squad to lethal Injection, the first of which was carried out on 18 September 2003 against four prisoners convicted on drug-related offences. The last execution in Thailand took place on 24 August 2009 against two prisoners convicted on drug-related offences. There are, therefore, six prisoners altogether who have been executed this way. From 1935 until present, 325 prisoners have been executed.
As to the current number of death row inmates, there are 447 of them, of which only 157 have been handed with the final verdicts already (68 on drug-related offences and 89 on ordinary crimes) as per the table below (source: Department of Corrections, April 2017)
Final verdict prisoners
Final verdict prisoners
It should be noted that the last execution in Thailand took place in August 2009 and since then there has been no other executions. And if Thailand can refrain from implementing the capital punishment in the next two years, it would make a decade free of execution as a result of which Thailand would be counted among the abolitionist countries in practice according to the Moratorium.
2. Previous implementation for the abolition of death penalty by the Ministry of Justice’s Rights and Liberties Protection Department can be summarized as follows;
2.1 Feasibility study on the abolition of death penalty according to the Second National Human Rights Action Plan with the following detail;
(1) Review information from within and outside the country: Domestically, there has been a review of all laws that inflict death penalty including the nature of the crime or gravity of the offences, statistics of cases that have reached final verdicts for death penalty and accumulative statistics of mandatory death penalty sentencing in Thailand ten years until now. Internationally, an attempt was made to explore information concerning countries that have made change to their capital punishment and the retentionist countries and measures and methods that countries have been using to replace death penalty as well as their consequences.
(2) Awareness raising and public consultation through workshops on “Is Death Penalty Still Necessary in Thailand?” covering all the four regions and Bangkok with 1,073 representatives from all sectors. It aims to raise the awareness on the advocacy to abolish death penalty and to gather inputs as to measures and methods that could be use in lieu of the capital punishment.
(3) Interview with knowledgeable persons/experts on human rights, laws and justice process / victims of crimes / persons who used to be sentenced to death and general public, 27 of them.
(4) Online public consultation through website of the Rights and Liberties Protection Department on “Public Consultation on Measures and Methods that Can be Used In lieu of Death Penalty” including 1,301 persons.
Table: “Should Thailand Abolish or Retain Death Penalty?”
|Scale of opinion||People receiving information||People not receiving information|
|Strongly agree with death penalty||46.9%||72.6%||41.1%||68.7%||73.1%|
|Relatively agree with death penalty||25.7%||27.3%||15%|
|Inclined to have death penalty abolished||10.2%||18.3%||14.3%||22.1%||5.1%|
|Strongly inclined to have death penalty abolished||9.1%||7.8%||4%|
2.2 The inclusion of death penalty advocacy in the Third National Human Rights Action Plan (2014-2018) It aims to make existing domestic laws compatible with international human rights standards. The advocacy for change of death penalty was thus includes in the human rights action plan on justice process stipulating that “change shall be advocated to have the National Legislative Assembly to convert death penalty to life sentence” and the activities have been spelled out including;
(1) Raising the awareness on human rights laws among personnel in the justice process and general public, particularly on human dignity and the right to life, which is a fundamental right.
(2) Making an effort to achieve a moratorium on death penalty immediately and voicing support for the resolution on moratorium on the death penalty at the UN General Assembly with intent to eventually abolish death penalty in its law.
(3) Recommending the reduction of offences punishable by death penalty including offences that are not “most serious crimes” per Article 6(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) including arson and terrorism, within 2017.
(4) Acceding to the Second Optional Protocol to ICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty within 2018.
(5) Building maximum security prison to accommodate inmates committing most serious crimes.
To ensure effective implementation of the Third National Human Rights Action Plan on justice process, the Ministry of Justice’s Rights and Liberties Protection Department shall act as the following;
2.2.1 Brainstorm among resource persons and experts on human rights and laws aiming to review laws that provide for the use of death penalty on 55 offences (of 63 offences at present) in the Penal Code and other laws and recommend the offences for which the use of death penalty can be abolished. A public seminar on “For Which Criminal Offences, Death Penalty Should be Abolished” was thus organized on 8 August 2014 at Ebina House Hotel, Vibhavadi Rangsit, Bangkok with 53 participants. The results can be summarized as follows;
(1) As to the most serious crimes, death penalty should still be retained, but rather than keeping mandatory death penalty, it should be changed to allow judges to use own discretion in the use of capital punishment.
(2) For certain offences concerning thief or narcotic drug, death penalty can be abolished.
(3) The Rights and Liberties Protection Department should make further effort to explore general social values and if life has been less valued or not as well as to clarify why certain overlapping offences carry different punishments.
(4) There is still a relatively little understanding about crime in society and punishment. The fact should be reviewed again when Thailand is about to move toward changing the death penalty.
(5) There have been positive international and regional/ASEAN trends toward the abolition of death penalty and this should be useful for the advocacy for the abolition of death penalty in Thailand, particularly, the Second Optional Protocol to ICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.
2.2.2 A public seminar on “The National Human Rights Action Plan and the Direction of Thailand’s Justice Process” was organized with an aim to garner more understanding and raise the awareness about the Third National Human Rights Action Plan among agencies in the justice process and to gather inputs from target groups on the issue concerning the abolition of death penalty. It took place at the Rama Gardens Hotel, Vibhavadi Rangsit, Bangkok with 131 participants. Most of the participants still disagree with the abolition of death penalty, though they supported the implementation of the Action Plan and to allow judges to use their discretion in sentencing and to reduce the number of offences punishable by death.
2.2.3 Dissemination of briefing on “Campaign to change Death Penalty based on International Human Rights Principles” with an aim to raise the awareness and garner understanding about the abolition of death penalty. The briefing has been circulated among agencies in the justice process, libraries of higher education institutions, and public libraries throughout the country, about 1,000 venues.
2.3 Review readiness for Thailand to become a party to the Second Optional Protocol to ICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, which can be summarized as follows;
(1) Thailand should first ensure full obligation of Article 6 of ICCPR, particularly on the exclusive use of death penalty on the most serious crimes since the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) recommended that Thailand’s use of death penalty for drug-related offences is a breach to ICCPR as drug-related offences are not considered most serious crimes. Therefore, whether Thailand should accede to the Second Optional Protocol to ICCPR or not is not more important than Thailand’s compliance with ICCPR on the exclusive use of death penalty on most serious crimes.
(2) If Thailand is determined to abolish death penalty, it should set out a strategic plan, clear operational framework and timeline including
Phase One: Review and identify criminal offences that are not considered the most serious crimes according to international law.
Phase Two: Review the possibility to apply paroling which should be treated as a government policy and to have it reviewed regularly as well as to modernize the country’s penitentiary system.
Phase Three: An amendment should be made to the Penal Code to change maximum punishment from death to life sentence and there shall be constant monitoring of its impacts in terms of the number of criminal incidences, the gravity of the crime and public perception on safety and security.
Phase Four: When Thailand is ready, there should be a recommendation for it to accede to the Second Optional Protocol to ICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.
2.4 Campaign and seminar and awareness raising among campaign alliances for the abolition of death penalty including among state sector, people sector and international organizations including the delegation of the European Union in Thailand, the Office of National Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International, Union for Civil Liberty (UCL), Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, etc.
3. Ministry of Justice’s Action Plan
3.1 In pursuance to the recommendation by the National Human Rights Commission to the Prime Minister to make change to laws concerning death penalty: As a result, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Wissanu Krea-ngam, on behalf of the PM, has instructed the Ministry of Justice to promptly convene a meeting among concerned agencies and to produce a report of the review and implementation per the recommendation which shall then be submitted to the Secretariat of the Cabinet which shall then submit it to the cabinet.
The MoJ has then instructed the Office of the Justice Affairs to review information about the possible change of death penalty. The Office of the Justice Affairs then coordinated with the Rights and Liberties Protection Department regarding the results of the review and implementation. The issue has then been raised at the meeting of the Subcommittee for the Development and Enforcement of Law Equally and Fairly no. 2/2559 on 1 March 2016 and the meeting of the Committee for the Development of National Justice Affairs no. 2/2559 on 7 April 2016. At both meetings, it was agreed that change to the death penalty shall be made as follows;
Phase 1 Change from mandatory death penalty to allow judges to make their discretion as to sentencing without having to always impose death penalty.
Phase 2 Abolish death penalty for certain offences, particularly non-fatal offences or offences that cause no fatality to other persons
Phase 3 Abolish death penalty for all crimes
The Office of the Justice Affairs’ Committee for the Development of National Justice Affairs has then proposed a recommendation regarding the reform of laws concerning death penalty and human rights principles to the cabinet1 and the cabinet made a resolution on 26 July 2016 acknowledging and endorsing the MoJ’s recommendation already2. Then, the MoJ’s Permanent Secretary has instructed the Rights and Liberties Protection Department to accept the recommendation and put into practice3.
3.2 The Rights and Liberties Protection Department has convened a meeting between the Rights and Liberties Protection Department; and the Office of the Justice Affairs on 25 May 2017 at Sawang Kamol meeting room, 3rd floor, the Rights and Liberties Protection Department aiming to set out directions and framework of cooperation and to consult on the possibility to set up a joint-committee to campaign and advocate change in death penalty. The recommendations accepted for implementation during the meeting included;
(1) The Rights and Liberties Protection Department; shall independently proceed to campaign for change of death penalty based on human rights principles without having to seek endorsement from the Committee for the Development of National Justice Affairs before any implementation.
(2) A taskforce to enable change of death penalty shall be set up per the cabinet resolution dated 26 July 2016 and the Office of the Justice Affairs shall be willing to take part in the taskforce.
(3) An action plan to advocate change in death penalty shall be drawn and include activities including meetings among agencies responsible for various laws which can be invoked to impose death penalty to make them realize the importance of this campaign and to consult with them over the possibility to make change to certain laws in order to advocate the in-charge agencies to make legal amendments according to the guidelines for change of death penalty aforementioned.
(4) Raising the awareness and engender proper understanding about the campaign for change of death penalty among public officials and general public along with an effort to implement an action plan to advocate change of death penalty per (7).
At present, the Rights and Liberties Protection Department is forming the taskforce to enable change of death penalty and developing an action plan for its implementation as well as is preparing for a review of the possibility to allow judges to use own discretion regarding sentencing in offences punishable by mandatory death penalty. Results of the review shall be submitted to the cabinet later.
4. Positive and negative developments of the movement for change of death penalty in Thailand at present
The movement for change of death penalty in Thailand has elicit both positive impacts that are favorable to the implementation and negative impacts that need to be monitored and prompts a need to raise more social awareness. Concrete examples can be cited as follows;
4.1 Positive developments (1) Recently, Thailand has made change to the Narcotic Act (Vol. 6) 2017, which came into force on 16 January 2017. The amendment has engendered various benefits to the drug-related justice process. For one thing, it enables judges to use own discretion in sentencing. Previously for offences related to import and export of narcotic substances type 1 and its sale shall be liable to mandatory death penalty. But in the newly amended Act, the punishment shall include life imprisonment, a fine from one to five million baht or death and the judges shall be allowed to use own discretion with regard to sentencing. (2) If Thailand can refrain from implementing the capital punishment in the next two years (until 2019), it would make a decade free of execution and we shall be counted as an abolitionist country (the last execution in Thailand took place in 2009). (3) Death penalty shall be included as a long-term policy in the Fourth National Human Rights Action Plan (2019-2023). To raise the awareness and to reduce offences punishable by death. The Draft Plan is now open for inputs.
4.2 Negative developments Previously, the number of offences punishable by death was 55, but after the promulgation of three new laws in 2015 which imposed death penalty on eight offences, the number of such offences has increased to 63 with detail as per the annex. An increase of offences punishable by death has drawn much criticism from international community since the death penalty was imposed on offences concerning economics/property. Such a move was also in breach of the state policy as indicated in the National Human Rights Action Plan. The new offences punishable by death have been added by the three following laws;
(1) The Organic Act on Counter Corruption B.E 2558 (Vol. 2)
(2) The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act BE 2558 (Vol.2)
1Letter from the Committee for the Development of National Justice Affairs, the Office of the Justice Affairs no, YT 0902/808 dated 27 April 2016 concerning ‘Recommendations for the Reform of Laws concerning Death Penalty and Human Rights Principles’ from the Deputy Prime Minister (Wissanu Krea-ngam) to the Secretary General of the Cabinet and a letter from the Ministry of Justice no. YT 0904/710 dated 1 February 2016 on ‘Policy Recommendations and other Recommendations for the Reform of Laws concerning Death Penalty and Human Rights Principles’ from the Minister of Justice to the Secretary General of the Cabinet
2Letter from the Office of Minister, Ministry of Justice ‘Most Urgent’ no. YT 0101/ W843 dated 26 July 2016 on ‘A Meeting Minutes from the cabinet meeting no. 29/2559’
3Letter from the Office of the Justice Affairs no. YT 0904/1932 dated 26 October 2016 on ‘Policy Recommendations and other Recommendations for the Reform of Laws concerning Death Penalty and Human Rights Principles’