Country report and updates: Thailand
- The right to conscientious objection is not recognised for professional soldiers, nor for serving conscripts.
Conscription is enshrined in article 73 of the Constitution of 2007, which reads: “Every person shall have a duty to serve in armed forces (...)”1. It is further regulated in the Military Service Act B.E. 2497 (1954).
Every Thai male is required to enlist in the military reserve force at the age of 18 years. At the age of 21 years, they are screened for physical disabilities and recruited on a demand basis for two years of military service as private soldiers2. All men aged 21 to 30 are liable for a two years' military service, with reservist duties applying afterwards. Buddhist monks, students in certain technical studies and naturalised students are exempted. The exemption of naturalised students is meant to exclude Chinese from joining the armed forces3.
It is possible to volunteer for military service from the age of 18, in which case military service will be between six and 18 months, depending on ones education level. Volunteer soldiers with a bachelor's degree are in service for only six months and those who have diplomas or have completed the second year of the army's territorial defence training serve only one year4.
Call-up takes place once a year. Each is given a quota of the number of recruits needed by the armed forces. As the number of liable conscripts is far higher than the number needed by the armed forces, recruitment is by ballot: those drawing a red ticket had to perform military service; those drawing a black ticket did not. In the 80s and 90s the recruitment system increasingly became subject to public debate. Obviously the system was likely to lead to favouritism on the hands of influential or rich people. As a result most of the conscripts in the armed forces had a poor and uneducated background5.
Military service can be postponed for males who are studying in higher education institutions, but for no longer than five years.
Alternatively, young males can engage in an extracurricular course for students of upper secondary and higher education. The course is offered by the Territorial Defence Department, Ministry of Defence, requiring five years to complete. The minimum requirement for this course is the participation for three years as a reserve officer training corps (ROTC) student. Titles of provisional second sergeant, first sergeant and second lieutenant are granted to those who complete three, four and five years of ROTC respectively.
ROTC graduates are exempted from military service as private soldiers. They form part of the reserve forces without having served in the army. Some are later called to join the army when needed, but only a few are recruited each year. Males and females aged 15 to 22 years, with Grade 9 education are eligible to participate in the ROTC programme6.
There are several paramilitary forces who compose the defence force of a territory and may be considered as the reserve forces. Thailand, in fact, plans to increase the strength of its reserve forces as it regards it as a way to enhance defence capabilities at a lower cost9.
The recruitment methods of these paramilitary forces are not known.
More than 60% of the Thai Armed Forces is comprised of professional soldiers. However, not much is known about recruitment practice and service conditions.
Conscientious objection for conscripts
There is no known legal provision for conscientious objection10.
Conscientious objection for professional soldiers
As Thailand does not recognise the right to conscientious objection for conscripts, it also does not recognise the right to conscientious objection for professional soldiers.
The rules for terminating a service contract prematurely are not known.
Draft evasion and desertion
Draft evasion has been a widespread problem. In 1999, it was reported that an estimated 30,000 persons, most of them sons of rich and influential people, evade conscription11. Corruption is widespread to avoid military service, according to anecdotal evidence12.
According to section 25 in conjunction with section 44 of the Military Service Act, failing to report oneself upon notice, can be punished with not more than 3 months imprisonment or a fine of 300 Thai Baht (£5.50) or both.
Not attending military service selection can be punished with imprisonment of not more than 3 years, under section 27 in conjunction with section 45 of the Military Service Act13.
Details of punishment for avoiding military service are not known.
1Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand 2007, article 73, http://www.asianlii.org/th/legis/const/2007/1.html#C01, accessed 28 September 2009
2Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific: Youth in Thailand: A Review of the Youth Situation and National Policies and Programmes, United Nations, New York, 2000, http://www.unescap.org/esid/hds/youth/youth_thailand.pdf, page 49, accessed 28 September 2009
3US Library of Congress 1987. Thailand - A country study. Area Handbooks, State Department, Washington DC.
4Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - Thailand, 2001, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/498805c7c.html, accessed 28 September 2009
5Bangkok Post, 5 April 1995; Bangkok Post, 18 August 1993; US Library of Congress 1987. Thailand - A country study. Area Handbooks, State Department, Washington DC.
6Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific: Youth in Thailand: A Review of the Youth Situation and National Policies and Programmes, United Nations, New York, 2000, http://www.unescap.org/esid/hds/youth/youth_thailand.pdf, page 49, accessed 28 September 2009
7GlobalSecurity.org: Royal Thai Army, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/thailand/army-intro.htm, accessed 28 September 2009
8GlobalSecurity.org: Royal Thai Navy, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/thailand/navy-intro.htm, accessed 28 September 2009
9Société 13c 1991. Military Powers Encyclopedia, Volume 6. Paris.
10Eide, A., C. Mubanga-Chipoya 1983. Conscientious objection to military service. report prepared in pursuance of resolutions 14 (XXXIV) and 1982/30 of the Subcommission of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. United Nations, New York.
12Isaan Style: http://isaanstyle.blogspot.com/2008/04/army-conscription-in-thailand.html, accessed 28 September 2009
13Utip Suparp: The Philosophy of Criminology when Sentencing in Thai Courts: A Case Study of Intentional, Negligent and Provoked Criminals, undated, http://asialaw.tripod.com/articles/sentencingsuparb.html, accessed 28 October 2009
I am a conscientious objector; this means I will not take part in conscription or government required military service in Thailand. Military rule has dominated Thai society, not only now but also for a long time, and its power increases every year. However the Thai army is a joke for people around the world.
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Hannah visited Thailand as part of the Right to Refuse to Kill Programme's work to support conscientious objection, and movements against conscription.
When I arrived in Bangkok in November, many people were in mourning Bhumibol Adulyadej - the king who died on 13th October after seven decades on the throne. I travelled there along with Jungmin Choi and Yongsuk Lee, two members of World Without War (WRI's affiliate in Korea).
This period of mourning was evident in peoples' homes, in public spaces, and in the very atmosphere of cities and town. Festivals were cancelled or curtailed, most people still dressing in black (or wearing black ribbons) over a month after his death, and memorials and commemorative videos found in bus stations, temples, and the metro.
Alongside this respect for the monarch lies a coercive tradition: Thailand's strict lèse-majesté laws (prohibiting criticism of the royal family) inhibit freedom of speech, and have been used against activists as a weapon. Dissent is a social taboo, as well as illegal under Article 112 of the Penal Code. Although the lèse-majesté laws only apply to the King, Queen, Royal Heir (now Rama X), and Regent, they have been widely used for suppression, even for those who mock the King’s favourite dog, Thong Daeng (Copper), and the Crown Prince’s poodle Foo Foo, who was elevated to the status of Air Marshal, complete with uniform. Many are arrested for innocuous Facebook comments and hyperlinks.
Since the most recent coup of 2014, a military government has been in place, and their rhetoric reinforces their position as protector and champion of the monarchy. So it was an interesting time to visit Thailand for the first time!
In the trial of Vitaliy Shalaiko, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Ukraine’s high court has affirmed the right of conscientious objectors to refuse to be drafted to the army even in times of war. COs will be allowed to do alternative service instead of being drafted. Also in the Ukraine, President Petro Poroshenko has declared that the age of conscription will be increased from 18 to 20, and that the conscripts will not be required to fight in Anti-Terrorist Operation zones. He added that the army would move towards having more contracted soldiers.