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. 02 / September 2014

Road to Abolition: Death Penalty in Thailand
Pett Jarupaiboon
While Thailand remains among some 50 countries that still retain capital punishment there
have been some positive developments with regard to the prospect of abolishing death pen-
alty. However, efforts toward capital punishment abolition are hampered by a number of
factors.
While the majority of countries around the
world have either abolished the death penal-
ty or introduced a moratorium on execu-
tions, either in law or in practice, Thailand
remains among some 50 countries that still
retain capital punishment. In comparison
with the situation in the Southeast Asian
community, its death-row population was
said to rank second to that of Malaysia
1
,
which retains the death penalty by means of
hanging. Meanwhile Cambodia and the Phil-
ippines abolished the death penalty in 1989
and 2006
2
, respectively, while no executions
have been reported in neighbouring Laos or
Myanmar for over a decade. Brunei currently
holds the status of de facto abolitionist, with
no executions reported since 1957. Indonesia
and Vietnam both retain the death penalty,
by firing squad and lethal injection, respec-
tively.
3
Another retentionist country, Singa-
pore, which was ranked by AMNESTY INTERNA-
TIONAL in 2004 as possibly having the highest
per-capita ratio of prisoners condemned to
death, has continued to improve its record,
with the numbers of death-row prisoners
greatly reduced and fewer executions rec-
orded in recent years.
4

Table 1: Death Penalty Statistics
in Thailand as at February 25, 2014
Condemned Prisoners (cases)
Legal Process Completed 147
Before Appeal Court 441
Before Supreme Court 97
Total 685

Table 2: Condemned Prisoners
with Completed Legal Process in Thailand
Crime Male Female Total
Drug-related 60 11 71
Others 75 1 76
Total 135 12 147
Source: Department of Corrections
5


As seen in the above tables, there were approxi-
mately 700 prisoners on death row. Many of
these were convicted for drug offenses. The fact
that Thai law continues to enforce the use of the
death penalty for drug trafficking is particularly
worrying, as a large number of countries reserve
No. 02 / September 2014 | Road to Abolition Death Penalty in Thailand | 2
Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom | Focus Human Rights
the death penalty for only cases of premeditated
homicide. In 2005, Thailand was admonished by
the UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION for
retaining the use of the death penalty for drug-
related cases.
6
This raises concerns that the
death penalty is not restricted to the most seri-
ous crimes, which do not include drug-related
offenses, as stipulated in the International Cove-
nant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to
which Thailand is a State party.
There have been notable efforts by human rights
activists with regards to the issue of death pen-
alty in recent years. In October 2013, representa-
tives from AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL THAILAND met
with the SENATE STANDING COMMITTEE ON HUMAN
RIGHTS, RIGHTS AND LIBERTIES, AND CONSUMER PRO-
TECTION to discuss the possibility of death penal-
ty. During the meeting, the Committee stated
that while Thailand is a retentionist country, the
punishment is rarely carried out as prisoners
condemned to death are permitted to file for a
royal pardon. The trend for clemency the com-
mutation, or substitution, of a sentence of death
with a sentence of imprisonment for death
penalty cases in Thailand is particularly notewor-
thy for that fact that, at least since the end of
World War II, the King has commuted the vast
majority of finalized death sentences by the
Individual or Collective Royal Pardon procedures.
Over 90 percent of finalized cases with the pen-
alty of death are commuted in Thailand. In Au-
gust 2012, all prisoners who were sentenced to
death and whose cases had reached a final ver-
dict were pardoned by the King; their death sen-
tences were reduced to life imprisonment. Ac-
cording to a 2005 report by the INTERNATIONAL
FEDERATION FOR HUMAN RIGHTS (FIDH), Thailand
witnessed a de facto moratorium between 1987
and 1995, when a royal pardon was granted to
all inmates on death row.
7

The most recent executions in Thailand occurred
in 2009, when two drug-trafficking convicts
were executed by means of lethal injection.
8

Prior to that, the last executions took place in
2003. If there are no more executions in the next
five years, Thailand will obtain the status of an
abolitionist in practice, according to Amnesty
International which defines a country as such if
no executions have been carried out for ten con-
secutive years.
Meanwhile, there have been some positive de-
velopments with regards to the prospect of abol-
ishing capital punishment in Thailand in recent
years. In 2010, Thailand abstained in a UNITED
NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY (UNGA) vote for a
global moratorium on the use of death penalty
for the first time a move welcomed by human
rights advocates as a major stepping stone as
Thailand had usually voted against it in the past.
Thailand continued to abstain in the vote in
2011 and 2012. In 2012, a law was passed that
abolished the death penalty for juvenile and
pregnant offenders, in line with Article 6 of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights (ICCPR). Another notable development is
the fact that the replacement of capital punish-
ment with life imprisonment is used as a princi-
pal indicator of progress in the countrys second
National Human Rights Plan of Action (2009-
2013), which also included the review of legisla-
tions that allows capital punishment.
9
The issue
is also included in greater details in the third
plan for 20142018, which outlines a program
that purportedly includes the conduct of re-
search on required legal and constitutional
amendments, plans on consultation of public
opinion, and a debate in parliament on the abol-
ishment. The major actor in the implementation
of said plans is the RIGHTS AND LIBERTIES PROTEC-
TION DEPARTMENT OF THE MINISTRY OF JUSTICE, with
the support of an academic team responsible for
the research and presentation of the study re-
sults. Meanwhile, an increasing number of high-
ranking officials and influential figures in the
justice ministry and relevant agencies have ei-
ther voiced their opposition against the use of
the death penalty or shown willingness in work-
ing toward its abolishment. In an interview with
a local news outlet in December 2012, Police
Colonel Aeknarat Sawettanand, Director General
of the DEPARTMENT OF RIGHTS AND LIBERTY PROTEC-
TION, stated that the Department was committed
in working to learn from the experience of other
countries with regards to death penalty and raise
awareness among the Thai public that the death
penalty does not lead to the reduction of serious
crimes.
10
During a discussion hosted by the de-
partment in June 2013, Nathee Chitsawang, the
Deputy Director of the THAILAND INSTITUTE OF JUS-
TICE, a public organization affiliated with the
justice ministry, declared that Thailand aims at
achieving de facto abolition, a status ascribed to
nations with no recorded executions for a 10-
year period.
11

However, efforts toward capital punishment
abolition may be hampered by a number of fac-
tors. As shown in several popular surveys over
the years, many Thais are still in favour of the
death penalty, especially in the aftermath of
No. 02 / September 2014 | Road to Abolition Death Penalty in Thailand | 3
Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom | Focus Human Rights
highly-publicized serious crimes, such as cases of
sexual assault against minors. This is partly be-
cause some people see the use of death penalty
as revenge and retribution, while others believe
it acts as deterrent for would-be criminals. In
addition, the government has yet to take a fore-
front role when it comes to death penalty abol-
ishment. The government only allocates a rather
small budget reportedly only two million Baht
(approximately 45,000 Euro) each year to
agencies in charge for the activities required in
executing the National Human Rights Plan of
Action.
12
In addition, despite the aforementioned
abstention of vote in the UNGA, the Thai gov-
ernment failed to send representatives to the
World Conference of the Abolition of the Death
Penalty in the Spanish capital of Madrid in June
2013, indicating that it was not committed in
seriously pursuing this goal.
While Thailand has a long way toward the aboli-
tion of death penalty, it may begin with a more
humble step by adopting a moratorium on exe-
cutions. The country has made significant pro-
gress when it recently prohibited capital pun-
ishment for juvenile and pregnant offenders, and
the granting of the royal pardon to a large num-
ber of death row inmates each year is significant
in preparing the public toward an attitude that
sees the death penalty as a violation of human
rights that will eventually lead them to accept a
more humane substitute for capital punishment,
namely permanent imprisonment without parole.
While it is ultimately up to the parliament to
sign it into law, concerted efforts by other non-
state actors are instrumental in making this
happen, including by human rights NGOs, those
working in justice and corrections department,
political parties, interest parties, and Buddhist
authorities.

1
The European Union and Death Penalty in Thailand,
Delegation of the European Union to Thailand, accessed
April 11, 2014,
http://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/thailand/eu_thailand/polit
ical_relations/the_european_union_and_death_penalty_in_
thailand/index_en.htm
2
The Philippines was the first Asian country to abolish
capital punishment when it ratified its 1987 constitution.

However, the constitution did not prevent the legislative
branch from re-imposing it, and so the law was passed that
re-imposed the death penalty after a surge of serious
crimes in 1993, and then again in 2003. In 2006, the Philip-
pine legislature signed a bill prohibiting the imposition of
the death penalty, thereby officially ending the death pen-
alty.
3
Asia (South-eastern Asia), Death Penalty Worldwide,
accessed April 18, 2014 ,
http://www.deathpenaltyworldwide.org/country-
filter.cfm?region=Asia%20%28South-
eastern%20Asia%29&method=&language=en
4
Singapore: The death penalty - A hidden toll of
executions, Amnesty International, accessed March
31, 2014,
http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/ASA36/001/2
004/en.
Singapore, Death Penalty Worldwide, accessed April 18,
2014 , http://www.deathpenaltyworldwide.org/country-
search-post.cfm?country=Singapore
5
Death Penalty Statistics : 25th February 2014, Death
Penalty Thailand, accessed April 17, 2014,
http://deathpenaltythailand.blogspot.com
6
"Thailand does not execute women," Death Penalty Thai-
land, accessed April 17, 2014
http://deathpenaltythailand.blogspot.com/2013_12_01_arc
hive.html
7
The death penalty in Thailand,International Federation
for Human Rights, accessed April 1, 2014,
http://www.fidh.org/IMG/pdf/Thailand411-2.pdf
8
Thailand carries out first executions in six years, Amnes-
ty International , accessed March 31, 2014,
http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-
updates/news/thailand-first-executions-six-years-
20090826
9
The European Union and Death Penalty in Thailand,
Delegation of the European Union to Thailand, accessed
April 11, 2014,
http://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/thailand/eu_thailand/polit
ical_relations/the_european_union_and_death_penalty_in_
thailand/index_en.htm
TIJ joined the Death Penalty Debate, Thailand Institute of
Justice, accessed April 18, 2014,
http://www.tijthailand.org/main/en/content/104.html
10
Experts call for end to death penalty in Thailand, Na-
tionmultimedia, accessed April 18, 2014.
http://www.nationmultimedia.com/national/Experts-call-
for-end-to-death-penalty-in-Thailand-30196019.html
11
Aftermath of the World Congress - back to Thailand,
Death Penalty Thailand, accessed April 17, 2014,
http://deathpenaltythailand.blogspot.com/2013_06_01_arc
hive.html
12
Where does Thailand stand?, Death Penalty Thailand,
accessed April 17, 2014,
http://deathpenaltythailand.blogspot.com
Pett Jarupaiboon is Programme Officer at the Southeast and East Asia Office of the Friedrich Nau-
mann Foundation for Freedom in Bangkok.
No. 02 / September 2014 | Road to Abolition Death Penalty in Thailand | 4
Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom | Focus Human Rights

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