Thailand: The Death Penalty Returns

Thailand has ended its de facto moratorium on the use of the death penalty after nine years. Theerasak Longji, a 26-year-old man found guilty of aggravated murder six years ago, was executed by lethal injection on June 18 2018 by Thai authorities. This is the country’s first execution since August 2009. Thailand had once incorporated the de facto moratorium into an action plan on human rights, which has now been reversed since the execution. Human rights activists are calling the reinforcement of the death penalty as a major setback on human rights progression.

Brad Adams, Asia Director for Human Rights Watch, proclaims, “Thailand’s resumed use of the death penalty marks a major setback for human rights,” and that, “The Thai government’s many pledges about moving toward abolishing the death penalty clearly meant nothing.” Katherine Gerson, Amnesty International’s Thailand Campaigner, has also voiced her concerns, stating, “This is a deplorable violation of the right to life. Thailand is reneging on its own commitment to move towards the abolition of the death penalty, and is putting itself out of step with the current global shift away from capital punishment.”

The Corrections Department argued the execution of Longji “focuses on protecting society rather than the rights and freedoms of wrongdoers” and that employing the death penalty again will send a strong warning message that serious crimes will be severely punished. According to the Corrections Department, as of April, there have been 517 prisoners on death row in Thailand, with the majority of those prisoners convicted of drug-related offences. The fate of these people, who have sought commutation of their sentences, is now under threat.

Thailand’s main defense in favour of ending the de facto moratorium is to send a strong warning to wrongdoers to not commit serious crimes – yet, there is no evidence proving that the death penalty reduces crime rates. Indeed, John J. Donohue III, a professor of law at Stanford University, argued, “There is no detectable effect of capital punishment on crime.” Therefore, the defense seems shaky at best. Gerson, in an explanation of why the death penalty should not be used, describes it as an “ultimate cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment… [that] provides no quick-fixes to problems the authorities want to confront.” It appears optimal that Thailand should once again uphold its national action plan on human rights, and cease all executions, conclusively abolishing the death penalty from their legal system.

The United Nations General Assembly has continually called on all countries to establish a moratorium on the death penalty with the goal of eventual abolition. Countries are called to progressively restrict the practise and reduce the offences for which it might be imposed. The UN Human Rights Committee, along with a UN expert on unlawful killings, have also specifically condemned the use of the death penalty for drug-related offences. Currently, 106 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, while 142 countries are abolitionist in law or practise.

While Thailand has been called to reduce the offences for which the death penalty might be imposed, the death penalty in Thailand remains mandatory for 35 crimes. International law restricts countries who have not abolished the death penalty to only use the penalty for the “most serious [of] crimes.” However, many of the offences for which the death penalty may be applied in Thailand do not meet this threshold.

Thailand needs to uphold human rights for all of its people. Executing wrongdoers is not the key to lowering crime rates, and the reinstatement of the death penalty does little but act as a step backwards in striving for human rights progression.

Katrina Hope