BANGKOK (AP) — The human rights group Amnesty International says many new conscripts in Thailand's military are physically, sexually and mentally abused, with some cases amounting to torture.
In a report issued Monday, the group says such treatment of conscripts undergoing basic training is widespread and long-standing and has included acts of rape.
The London-based group's research shows "that such maltreatment is not the exception but the rule, and deliberately hushed within the military," said Clare Algar, its senior director for research, advocacy and policy.
Military service is compulsory in Thailand.
Amnesty International says it found evidence that many conscripts "face violence, humiliation and sexual assault, and that gay conscripts, in particular, may be targeted for abuse because of their sexual orientation and gender expression."
Asked to comment on the allegations, Thai army spokesman Winthai Suwaree said there were some cases in the past, but rights violations have been rare in recent years.
He said such abuses are not a systemic problem in the military and the allegations would be investigated.
"The Thai military is concerned about the well-being of all of our soldiers. The army needs to have personnel who serve to the utmost of their capacity, so we do not tolerate physical abuse in any form," he said.
The reports says new conscripts may be beaten by their commanders and forced to perform physical exercises far beyond their endurance, "which — predictably — result in fainting or injury."
"They may on occasion be forced by commanders to jump into septic tanks, or to eat using their mouths only, ‘like dogs,’" says the report, titled “We were just toys to them.”
It says sexual abuses include forcing naked conscripts during bathing times “to hold each other's penises and stand or walk in a column or a circle" and making them masturbate in front of each other.
The group says it interviewed 24 former and currently serving conscripted soldiers, mostly from the Royal Thai Army, and three commanders and one former commander. It says the interviewees, who insisted on anonymity for fear of retribution, reported “three cases of rape involving forced sex and two other cases in which gay conscripts were coerced into providing ‘sexual favors’ to commanders.”
It says conscripts who either identified or were perceived as gay are often targeted for sexual abuse "including being forced to entertain and massage commanders, in situations that sometimes involve further sexual abuse."
The abuses often produce intense feelings of shame and humiliation and "constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and in some cases amount to torture," it says.
The report recommends that a commission of inquiry be formed to probe the alleged abuses. It also recommends the military adopt preventive measures “including issuing orders explicitly prohibiting (such abuses), ensuring that trainers are under constant supervision from higher-ranking commanders, and instituting night inspections by officers.”