IT may come as a major surprise to many foreigners that Thailand has a law that provides financial compensation to victims who suffer injuries resulting from criminal offences. Compensation is also available in the case of fatalities.
Applying the 2001 Compensation and Expenses for Injured Persons and the Accused Act is the responsibility of Police Colonel Naras Savestanan PhD, director-general of the Rights and Liberties Protection Department (RLPD) of the Ministry of Justice.
Expatriates and tourists are the group most likely to be in the dark on this issue, according to Pol Col Naras.
“Although the Act has been in force for 12 years, most crime victims apparently know nothing about it. My department’s research taken from crime reports found that only about 18 percent of people who have grounds for applying for compensation do so,” he explained.
In reality, only about 10 percent actually receive compensation – most are refused because the injured parties wait too long to apply – and over 95 percent of these people are Thai.
“However, the complication for many foreigners, aside from not knowing about the act, is that they are not in the country long enough for us to complete the process. Therefore, one of my priorities is to make the existence of the law known to the foreign community here.”
Serious crimes, including murder, rape and robbery, committed against foreigners tarnish Thailand’s reputation and damage the country in terms of investment and, particularly, tourism.
Pol Col Naras is working with the commander of the Surat Thani provincial police in the highly publicized killing of 23-year-old British tourist Stephen Ashton at a New Year’s party in a bar in Koh Phangnga.
Ashton was killed by a stray bullet during a fight involving a group of Thai men at a countdown party shortly after 4am on January I this year. “He was in the bar while other people quarreled and one of them accidentally shot and killed him. He [Ashton] had nothing to do with them.
“We went to the scene in Surat Thani province to pay the compensation, but the problem is that the people who were with the deceased are just friends. They aren’t eligible to receive the compensation. It can only be given to the parents or next of kin, explained Pol Col Naras.
“It may not be a lot of money, but providing compensation is a symbolic gesture to demonstrate that the Royal Thai government has a compensation law, and wishes to say we are sorry and show responsibility!”
Pol Col Naras, who holds a PhD in criminology from Florida State University in the US, took up his present position last October.
“This job is a big change for me. I have been in government service for 30 years − about 20 years as a policeman and almost nine years with the Department of Special Investigation. This is a very different assignment and I am finding it interesting and meaningful, and very rewarding. I am dealing with people who have experienced real loss and there are real tears.
“When I go out to pay compensation, for example to a mother whose son has been killed, it is very sad, but I am glad to take part in compensating her and helping her to heal,” he said.
Compensation is paid regardless of whether or not the legal system is able to identify, apprehend, prosecute and convict those responsible for the crime. The only condition is that the person awarded compensation must not have been involved in the crime.
“For example, if you are sitting and drinking together with someone and get into a fight and you stab this person, and then he shoots you, you can’t claim compensation because you played a part in the crime,” said Pol Col Naras. “The act also provides compensation for people who are wrongly accused of a crime.
“When someone dies as a result of a crime we pay up to 100,000 baht. For injured persons it depends on the cost of medical care – it normally doesn’t exceed 30,000 baht. We also may pay for funerals and loss of income,” he continued.
Pol Col Naras has set up a special group to monitor the cases of foreigners who have been victims of crime in Thailand and are eligible to claim compensation. Cases that receive a lot of attention from the public are more likely to be pursued further.
The process of deciding on compensation can be extremely time-consuming, making it difficult for the victim or their family to remain in the country.
“In the past we couldn’t do very much for tourists who are here for only a short while. The payment has to be approved by a committee that convenes once a month. The normal length of the process is 108 days, which is too long. I told my staff to speed up the process, cut through the red tape. I would like to cut the process to 45 days, but this is still not quick enough when it comes to cases involving tourists.”
Shortly after Pol Col Naras took charge he began thinking of ways his department could perform its duty more pro-actively. Recently he set up an advance fund using his personal resources to compensate the victims quickly.
“If the case is urgent we can now pay out of the advance fund,” he says. This occurred for the first time when a 12-year-old ethnic Karen girl in Kamphaeng Phet province was allegedly kidnapped at the age of seven and held as a slave by a Thai couple to do domestic work. She had been physically abused repeatedly and was in very bad condition, with burn injuries caused by scalding water over 70 percent of her body.
“Although she was born in Thailand, she didn’t have any identification documents and this would likely prolong the compensation process even further. So I decided to give her 30,000 baht out of the advance fund,” Pol Col Naras said.
His department is becoming more involved in the compensation process, such as visiting the crime scene and going to the victim or their family and helping them fill out the application.
“The normal process had been to wait until the victims or their families came to us to file the application. I don’t think this is fair for the people. As I say to my staff, this is not a visa application.
“The people we deal with are victims of crimes. I think we should approach them and let them know their right to compensation and help them get it.” He gave the example of Suwat Panjawong, a 31-year-old reporter for the Thai Post newspaper whose throat was slashed in a robbery committed by two men on a motorcycle.
“We sent people to inform him about the compensation and helped him to fill out the application. I will present it during the next meeting of the committee.
“We have two objectives. One is to be able to compensate the victims of crime swiftly. The second is to make people aware of the compensation law. If someone doesn’t make the application for one year after the crime they lose the right to compensation.
“In my department there are only 134
government officials responsible for the
whole country. The number of requests for compensation has increased from 400 to 500 monthly to around 800. During the last meeting, the committee approved more than 800 cases. This was a very long meeting indeed,” said Pol Col Naras.
“I have shortened the approval process. Previously it was necessary to establish that an applicant or their relative had definitely been a victim of a crime. This meant waiting for the police report, which could take six months or even a year. I think this is inappropriate and absolutely unnecessary because we know from day one if someone is a victim of a crime. What is more difficult is proving the applicant had no part in the crime themselves. Again, this used to mean waiting for the police report.
“Now we have designed a form in which the police officer called to the scene of the crime can check a box saying ‘to the best of my knowledge, the victim didn’t play any part in the criminal act.’ So instead of waiting months for a complete police report, we can pay the compensation much quicker.”
Pol Col Naras said these changes to expedite the process came about because of close cooperation from Royal Thai Police Chief General Adul Saengsingkaew and Police General Ek Angsananont. “The general signed a memo to police in
every Thai province directing them to help the RLPD get the message about compensation to crime victims.”
Asked to comment on the situation in Pattaya, where crime against foreigners is rampant, Pol Col Naras said: “We have one office in Chonburi city. Our team went to Chonburi recently and we invited almost 200 police officers from every police station in Region 2, which includes Pattaya, to come. We explained to them the urgency and necessity of making compensation to all crime victims, including foreigners, and urged them to facilitate victims in applying for compensation.
“For our department to be able to ‘play an angel’ is a good thing for the image of Thailand and its police force.
“As for foreign victims who can’t wait until the committee decision, my department can pay them some advance compensation, although it might not be a lot. Right now, we are concentrating on major cases, such as when a person is killed or admitted to hospital.
“In the majority of cases involving foreign tourists, the compensation is mostly a symbolic gesture. What they also need is attention and justice, with competent police to assist them.