Hannah Crowther

Why 'de facto' abolition isn't enough

on 01 September 2009

Thailand’s double execution last week is a disheartening setback on the road to abolition.

Last Monday, the 24th August, Thailand executed two prisoners for drugs offences, after a six year de facto moratorium on the death penalty. (A de facto moratorium occurs when the death penalty has not been used in a country for such a period as to make it in practice abolished, even whilst it remains available in law).

Thailand had not previously carried out an execution since 2003; one of Reprieve's recent clients, Eric Kong, was sentenced to death in Thailand  but granted clemency in June 2006.

This recent double killing, however, proves that a de facto moratorium is simply not sufficient. This inhumane punishment must be removed from the statute books altogether.

Bundit Charoenwanich (45) and Jirawat Phumpruek (52) were killed by lethal injection after spending eight years on death row. They had been convicted in March 2001 of possessing a large quantity of methamphetamine pills. It is unclear why these two men were chosen to be the unfortunate subjects of the revival, out of the 832 people on Thailand’s death row.

The two men were apparently informed of their execution just one hour in advance. In the predominantly Buddhist country, prison officials have spoken to the media about the personal difficulties they had carrying out the execution. The executioners reportedly asked the two men’s forgiveness before administering the lethal cocktail of sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride. 

The European Union and an array of human rights groups have condemned Thailand’s actions, which are seen as particularly unfortunate given the pivotal political role Thailand plays in Southeast Asia. Fifteen other countries in Asia still retain the death penalty for drug-related offences, although there is extremely limited data available on exactly how many death sentences are handed down.

Thirty-five countries are currently considered to be in a de facto moratorium state. But whilst the death penalty remains on the statute books it can be all too easily revived – with a change of government, judiciary, or public opinion.  Meanwhile, death sentences continue to be handed down, and those convicted live in a constant state of uncertainty as to when, if ever, the punishment will be carried out.

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