10 years after the ratification of the Convention Against Torture, Amnesty International has expressed concern that Thailand is not fulfilling its obligations. Human Rights Watch stated that Thailand has created a committee to receive complaints and investigate allegations of torture, but without law recognizing these crimes, the committee has little power. The military government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha has given many assurances that it will criminalize torture under Thai law and meet its obligations under the Convention against torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. However, since coming to power in 2014, this has still not been achieved. Furthermore, according to Human Rights Watch, this year the National Legislative Assembly has indefinitely suspended consideration of this legislation.
Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch stated that “Thailand needs to stop pretending it is in compliance with the Convention against Torture and recognize that the absence of a law prohibiting torture only encourages mistreatment of people in custody…Prime Minister Prayut’s pledges on the international stage to end torture just can’t be taken seriously.” He summed up that “Governments concerned about Thailand’s deteriorating human rights situation should speak out and encourage passage of the proposed anti-torture law.”
Conventions are the representation of the international community widely agreeing on particular principles that should guide behaviour and be recognized globally. However, it is not enough for countries, such as Thailand, to agree only through words. Proper procedure should include the incorporation of conventions into the domestic law of the state. With issues governed by convention, it is of the utmost importance that states adhere to the agreed terms. However, given the principle of state sovereignty, there is a limit on what the international community can achieve in ensuring compliance. The situation in Thailand highlights the inadequacy of some aspects of the international agreement, especially in regard to state sovereignty. State sovereignty is an important safeguard for state identity. However, that should not override the responsibilities the state has to the international community, especially in relation to major agreements that relate to fundamental human rights. Perhaps, upon ratification, there should be a suggested time frame for which the state must implement its domestic law. This would not impinge heavily on state sovereignty as ratification of a convention indicates a willingness to adhere to convention principles. The time frame should be broad enough to cater to government processes and any political unrest, but indefinite time requirements are not sufficient for such important agreements. This would ensure states enforce the rights that have been agreed upon and uphold the responsibilities that they commit to.
It is essential that Thailand introduces domestic legislation in relation to the Torture Convention, as not doing so will negatively impact its citizens and its reputation. The international community has limited options to act as there are no requirements that states enact legislation within a particular period of time. Introducing such limits could be an important factor in improving compliance and acceptance of these important conventions and the rights they protect. As Brad Adams suggests, states should make clear their disapproval of torture practices in Thailand and other states still utilizing such practices, and encourage the implementation of an anti-torture law. This may be the required push to move the government towards greater compliance which would then indicate its commitment to protecting its citizens from severe human rights abuses.