The UN human rights office in Phnom Penh yesterday criticized the government’s decision to deport two Thai nationals accused of orchestrating a recent bomb attack in Bangkok, saying that Cambodia may have failed to adhere to its human rights obligations.
Though they had not yet been charged with a crime, Thai nationals Kobchai Boonplod and Varissareeya Boonsom were arrested Saturday in Siem Reap City and denied access to the Cambodian court system before being delivered to Thai officials on Monday. The married couple were immediately flown to Bangkok in Thai custody.
Christophe Peschoux, country representative for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in an e-mail yesterday that it was unfortunate that the deportation had occurred so quickly.
“We do not have all the facts, but our main concern is that it seems that the removal of the two persons took place without proper procedure that would ensure its legality and the protection of their rights,” Mr Peschoux wrote.
The Thai government’s public relations department yesterday released a statement saying that deported suspects were still denying any involvement in a June 22 bombing outside the Bhumjaithai Party headquarters that injured one man.
“Unfortunately, this happened quickly,” Mr Peschoux wrote yesterday.
“Had we had the time, we would have provided our legal advice and recommendations to our interlocutors and [sought] to persuade them to ponder the decision, taking into account human rights and other legal obligations.”
Mr Peschoux noted that while Cambodia has abolished the death penalty, it was mandatory in Thailand for certain offenses.
“The International Covenant [on Civil and Political Rights] and the Convention Against Torture, which Cambodia is a party to, provide that no one should be sent to any country if he or she risks being tortured or sentenced to death.”
The official Thai News Agency on Monday said they could face terrorism charges, which could attract the death penalty.
The government yesterday defended its decision to deport the two suspects, despite the possibility the pair could face the death penalty if charged with terrorism offences.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said that Cambodia does not usually send suspects back to countries where they could face the death penalty.
“We usually don’t send…but in this case we were not sure of what charges they would face,” Mr Kanharith said.
Mr Kanharith added that Cambodia had made the decision to deport the pair based on its strong desire to fight terrorism and to help ensure that no hostile acts are undertaken against countries it holds relations with.
Sunai Phasuk, a researcher in Bangkok for Human Rights Watch, said he was concerned that the extradition did not follow due legal process.
“There was a lack of judicial oversight,” he wrote in an e-mail yesterday.
“No effort was made to assess the risk of political persecution and abuses that these people may face after their return to Thailand, especially against the backdrop of ongoing crackdown on the red shirt and the seriousness of the ‘terrorist’ charge.”
Mr Peschoux said yesterday that it was unknown whether the two suspects wanted political asylum while in Cambodia, which with the Philippines is the only Southeast Asian countries to have ratified the UN Refugee Convention.
“Until recently, [Cambodia] has been a safe haven for many people [and] UNHCR has worked closely with the Government to build a system of refugee protection based on the convention,” he wrote.
“In this case, it seems that a political decision was made. It is of course the sovereign prerogative of the government but it may not be in agreement with their legal obligations.”
In response to questions submitted Monday, the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry confirmed yesterday that Thailand had not requested the deportation of the two suspects.
“This is one of many positive developments in the cooperation between the two countries,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Vimon Kidchob wrote in an e-mail.
“The cases against the two suspects will proceed in accordance with the law and due process.”