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Time to ditch the death penalty

Today marks the 21st World Day Against the Death Penalty. For Thailand, it marks the fifth consecutive year without executions.

The last execution in the country was carried out on June 18, 2018. This means Thailand is halfway to becoming a de facto abolitionist, a status granted to countries that have not carried out any executions for 10 consecutive years.

At the end of September this year, there were 282 people (259 men and 23 women) with death sentences in Thailand, with nearly two-thirds of them potentially facing execution for drug-related offences. This marks a sharp reduction from five years ago, when there were 474 prisoners (392 men and 82 women) facing the death sentence in Thailand.

However, as long as there are people facing the death sentence, there is always a real chance that an execution could occur, and the clock will be turned back once again — just as it happened in June 2018.

Exactly five years ago today, I argued from this space that Thailand could not afford to drag its feet on the road to the abolition of the death penalty. Regrettably, this is exactly what happened under the administration led by General Prayut Chan-o-cha. Its inaction on this matter was indisputable.

In March last year, during the latest review of Thailand’s human rights record at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the Thai government refused to accept most of the recommendations it received concerning the abolition of capital punishment.

Under former prime minister Prayut, Thailand continued to abstain in the United Nations (UN) General Assembly’s biennial resolutions on the establishment of a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in 2018, 2020 and last year.

In addition, the latest National Human Rights Action Plan for 2023–2027, approved in February this year, failed to make any commitment towards the abolition of capital punishment, unlike earlier plans.

The global trend towards abolition is unequivocal and reflects greater recognition that the use of the death penalty is a barbaric form of punishment that is incompatible with fundamental human rights — above all, the right to life.

Today, 112 (nearly 60%) of the 189 member states have abolished the death penalty for all crimes. Last year, the Central African Republic, Kazakhstan, Papua New Guinea and Sierra Leone joined the ranks of the abolitionist countries. Why can’t Thailand be the next country to join this important list?

This is a question that awaits an answer from the new government led by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, who does not appear to have issued any public or policy statements on the matter of capital punishment.

Will Prime Minister Srettha’s administration continue to justify the use of the death penalty by regurgitating the misleading claim made by previous Thai governments that Thai public opinion is in favour of capital punishment?

If it lacks the political courage to abolish capital punishment for all crimes, Mr Srettha should at least take the following three steps towards that goal: 1) Immediately declare an official moratorium on executions; 2) rapidly abolish capital punishment for offences that do not meet the threshold of the “most serious crimes” — which international law identifies as only those involving intentional killing; and 3) vote in favour of the next UN General Assembly’s resolution on the death penalty moratorium in December 2024.

Taking these concrete actions will go some way towards repairing Thailand’s international reputation and supporting its campaign for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council for the 2025–2027 term.


Andrea Giorgetta is the Asia Desk Director for the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

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