Thai security forces are systematically torturing suspects in their fight against a deadly insurgency in the country’s Muslim-majority south, a report by Amnesty International said yesterday.
The rights group said it had found 34 cases of ill treatment, including beatings, people being buried up to their necks in the ground, subjected to electric shocks and having needles inserted in body parts including the eyes.
Four people had died after being severely beaten while in detention, it said.
“Torture and other ill treatment is being systematically used by the Thai security forces in the southern insurgency,” Donna Guest, deputy director of Amnesty’s Asia Pacific program, said at the launch of the report.
“The government must stop torture and bring the torturers to justice,” she said.
More than 3,500 people have been killed since separatist unrest erupted five years ago in Thailand’s four southernmost provinces. Tensions have simmered since Thailand annexed the mainly Malay sultanate in 1902.
Most of the victims have been civilians or security forces killed by insurgents in a wave of bombings, shootings and beheadings of Buddhists and Muslims which erupted in 2004.
But Guest said that while the rebels had engaged in “brutal acts, nothing justifies the security forces’ reliance on torture,” adding that it was further alienating the local population.
The youngest victim of torture highlighted in the report was a six-year-old boy who was allegedly tortured with his mother.
Report author Benjamin Zawacki said the Thai security forces and government had officially condemned the use of torture but added that there may be a culture of “willful blindness” among the authorities.
Zawacki said he had heard of a total of around 100 cases of torture but only included those which Amnesty had documented in the report.
Amnesty urged Thai authorities to take urgent steps, including closing all detention centres in the south; allowing detainees access to lawyers and family members; and removing immunity for officials involved in torture.
It also called on the government to amend a 2005 emergency decree that provides much of the legal framework for counterinsurgency operations.