Thailand taking middle path on capital punishment

opinion July 20, 2017 01:00

By The Nation

But public revulsion over a spate of gruesome murders threatens to reverse de  facto moratorium on executions



At a press conference last week on the arrest of eight suspects in the recent massacre of eight family members in Krabi, the national police chief said the perpetrators were inevitably destined for capital punishment.

After a spate of gruesome murders in recent months involving dismemberment of the victims and the execution-style shooting of a whole family including children, many citizens no doubt heartily agree with Police General Chaktip Chaijinda that the cold-blooded killers deserve to be put to death. Strong support for capital punishment in Thai society is buttressed by the argument that it acts as an effective deterrent against serious crimes, though human rights campaigners and international organisations deny this and routinely call for the death penalty to be abolished.

Amnesty International reports that Thai courts handed down 216 death sentences last year, leaving 427 prisoners on death row at the end of 2016 – including 24 foreign nationals. But no execution has been carried out in this country since August 2009.

Countries can be divided into four major groups when it comes to the issue of capital punishment – those that retain and use it, those that abolish it for all crimes, those that abolish it most cases but retain it for “exceptional” circumstances, and those that have abolished it in practice. The latter group of countries have executed no prisoners for 10 consecutive years and have a policy or established practice of not carrying out executions

Thailand is categorised among the 58 countries that retain and use capital punishment, while a total of 105 countries have abolished the practice completely. Yet Thai policy appears to be shifting towards the latter group of countries who retain the punishment in law but do not in practice.

Last year in May, Thailand accepted recommendations from the United Nations’ Human Rights Council to review the imposition of the death penalty for offences related to drug trafficking, to commute death sentences with a view to abolishing capital punishment, and to take steps towards abolishing the death penalty.

It seems capital punishment is being retained here with the purpose of deterring violent crimes, though no actual executions have been carried out for almost eight years.

During that time, those convicted of murder or masterminding murder have simply been incarcerated on an ever-lengthening death row. 

Some have even had their sentences commuted to life terms after confessing to and showing remorse for their crimes. Meanwhile thanks to the Corrections Department’s system of grading inmates, those classified as “excellent prisoners” or “good prisoners” can be entitled to reduced terms and even pardons. These convicts can simply wait to be released after completing their reduced terms.

A number of murderers convicted in high-profile cases have already been freed. 

Thai authorities appear to have opted for a middle path, seeking to appease both rights advocates and those who want capital punishment to be retained. This policy has the merit of helping protect the human rights of both convicted murderers and the victims and their grieving families.