Thailand : a gender-based abolitionist strategy

9 March 2015

Abolitionist militant in charge of the Death Penalty Project at Bankok’s Union for Civil Liberty (UCL), Danthong Breen is seeking to encourage the Thai authorities to abolish the death penalty for women. In the month which marks International Women’s Day, this gender-based approach deserves analysis and reflexion.

Why campaign for the abolition of the death penalty only for women ?
It’s a tactical choice. I’ve been campaigning against the death penalty in Thailand for over 10 years and I have long understood that abolition can only be achieved with the support of civil society, support which is currently inexistent. However, abolition of the death penalty for women seems more accessible and would constitute a first success which would allow us to campaign for universal abolition in the future under the pretext of gender equality.

Why would abolition be easier to obtain for women than for men in Thailand ?
The death penalty is very rarely handed down to women. Since the creation of the modern Thai state, only three women have been executed. Out of these executions one went wrong and had to be carried out a second time. Anyway, statistically speaking the majority of women condemned to death die in prison. On 5th December 2011, the King’s birthday, death sentences for all women were commuted. And in 2005 as part of a UN congress on crime prevention held in Bangkok, a representative for the Ministry of Justice confirmed that “Thailand does not execute women”. Abolishing the death penalty for women is thus a much easier mental barrier to overcome.

Who currently supports your project ?
We are currently at the very beginning of the process. The British embassy rejected our dossier stating that whilst British diplomacy supports the abolitionist movement, Thailand is not considered a priority regarding this issue. I hope to gain the support of the Swiss embassy.

How are females sentenced to the death penalty treated in Thai prisons ?
There are currently 54 women facing the death penalty, compared to 591 men. Whilst the men are imprisoned in a specific area, women on death row live side by side with other prisoners, but their conditions are deplorable. Thailand has more imprisoned women as a percentage of the total population than any country in the world including the United States, China and Russia meaning Thai prisons are heavily overpopulated. 80% of women are held for drug trafficking. Women tend to proclaim their innocence and fight to the bitter end to obtain justice, a strategy which is not looked upon favourably in Thailand and often leads to their sentence being extended. Males, on the other hand, tend to plead guilty and receive with shorted sentences.
Women have less than 1m2 of living space. At night they are locked in a communal cell and sleep on the same floor with only the space to lie on their side, not on their back. If they wake up to go to the toilet, they lose their place and must stay standing until morning. The men, however, have 1.6m2 and can sleep on their back. They would not put up with the same conditions as women. Protests would definitely break out. Women, however, don’t complain to the prison service, they are more resigned to their fate. They don’t have any activity, cannot benefit from education programmes and are totally unprepared for their release.

Have you managed to establish contact with the female prison population ?
It is very difficult to get authorisation to access female prisons and when we do it is very difficult to establish a dialogue with the detainees. The visiting rooms are very badly organised. The microphone and the speakers are on opposite sides of the room so that the detainee has to constantly jump from left to right. It is also very noisy. For now, only one group of militants from the Bangkok medical school has managed to carry out a study on female prisoners. Most of the information we currently have comes from their work.

Interview conducted by Camille Sarret and translated by Rebecca Bell
The interview in French : Thaïlande, une approche abolitionniste par le genre