An investigation by Amnesty International has found that Thai military conscripts are “routinely” subject to beatings, sexual abuse and other forms of humiliation that “often amount to torture.
The report, “We Were Just Toys to Them”, documents systemic patterns of abuse, “including several incidents of rape,” in the Thai armed forces.
Amnesty International(AI) interviewed 26 former and serving conscripted soldiers, including commanders and officers, in compiling the report.
“Abuses of new conscripts in the Thai military have long been an open secret. What our research shows is that such maltreatment is not the exception but the rule, and deliberately hushed within the military,” said Clare Algar, AI’s senior director for Research, Advocacy & Policy.
Algar detailed how sergeants and trainers would brutally beat recruits “with sticks and the butts of guns” and force them to “exercise until they fainted.”
“The full chain of command bears responsibility for this culture of violence and degradation,” she said. “The Thai authorities must take immediate steps to stop these abusive and degrading practices before the upcoming annual military draft, as well as launch a commission of inquiry to investigate these crimes.”
AI said that reports of sexual abuse and humiliation were also rampant. Conscripts who were gay or perceived to be gay were particularly singled out for acts of violence.
The group documented three cases of rape, one case of attempted rape, one of simulated rape, and two instances in which conscripts were coerced into providing “sexual favors” to commanders, which is tantamount to rape.
“These young conscripts are exposed to commanders who inflict sexual abuse, including rape and other forms of torture,” said Algar.
“These are serious crimes under Thai and international law and those responsible should face justice.”
The report comes over a month after a disgruntled soldier killed 30 people and injured 58 more in a mass shooting at a shopping mall in Thailand’s Nakhon Ratchasima province.
It was the deadliest mass shooting in Thai history.
The incident sparked debate in Thai society over a range of issues, including widespread hazing and abuse of power in the Thai military.
After a number of low-ranking soldiers expressed sympathy for the shooter, who cited extortion at the hands of his commanding officer as a trigger for his bloody rampage, even Thai Army Chief General Apirat Kongsompong conceded the dire consequences of such abuse.
“The reason for the perpetrator in this incident was the injustice he received from his commanding office and relatives,” Channel News Asia cites General Apirat as saying.
Having conducted 12 successive coup d’état’s since 1932, the military plays an outsized role in Thai society, with the current military-dominated coalition government being headed by the 2014 coup leader — Prayuth Chan-ocha.
Conscripts account for roughly half of the 350,000-strong Royal Thai Armed Forces.
Under the country’s 1954 Military Service Act, men are eligible for conscription once they turn 21.
Those who have not already volunteered are forced to take part in a lottery every April. With a third of those individuals forced to serve, clips of young men unable to contain their joy at avoiding military service have routinely gone viral.
The recently disbanded Future Forward Party (FFP), which was popular among young Thais weary of the military-dominated government, had campaigned on ending conscription in the country.
That, among other policy platforms, helped FFP place third during the 2019 general election, despite being less than a year old.