Thai military’s contempt for human rights and the rule of law poses a threat to democracy across ASEAN

Bangkok’s military government continues to demonstrate profound contempt for the rule of law and the dignity and rights of its citizens and should immediately repeal all laws that violate Thailand’s international human rights obligations and hand power back to a fully elected, civilian administration

MANILA – Bangkok’s military government continues to demonstrate profound contempt for the rule of law and the dignity and rights of its citizens and should immediately repeal all laws that violate Thailand’s international human rights obligations and hand power back to a fully elected, civilian administration, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said today.

APHR called on the international community and ASEAN government’s to take a stronger stand against the decline of human rights and the rule of law in Thailand, warning that a failure of the international community to stand up to the junta in Bangkok is being seen as a green light to other rights abusing governments in the region. This “soft” approach risks encouraging a serious backslide in democracy and the rule of law across the whole of Southeast Asia, APHR warned.

“Thai citizens have the right and duty under the previous Thai Constitution, the ASEAN Charter and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to be protected from human rights violations and afforded the freedom to express their ideas; but their voices are being suppressed under a climate of fear that has been systematically and perniciously enforced by an authoritarian, military government under General Prayuth Chan-ocha,” said Walden Bello, APHR Vice President and Philippines Congressman.

“Indeed, it is the actions of the military administration, including its failure to respect, protect and promote human rights that should be curtailed and monitored, not the thoughts and words of students, academics and ordinary Thai citizens seeking to uphold Thailand’s long history of democratization.”

The Thai coup and the military regime it has imposed is in direct violation of the purpose and principals of the ASEAN Charter and ASEAN governments must take a clear stand on this or risk undermining 40 years of work on the ASEAN project and making a mockery of the 2015 ASEAN Community, APHR said.

Article 1 of the ASEAN Charter states that among the 15 key purpose of the regional grouping is “to maintain and enhance peace, security and stability…in the region”, and “to strengthen democracy, enhance good governance and the rule of law, and to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms … ”.

“Something has gone terribly wrong in Thailand when the military illegally overthrows a democratically elected government and tears up the constitution, men and women are taken from their homes in the middle of the night and held at military camps, academics are banned from holding seminars, and people can’t freely post their thoughts and ideas on social media, and this, we are told is in the interests of democracy, the rule of law and justice: We all of us must be living in a Bizzaro World if this is accepted as anywhere close to being logical,” Mr. Bello added.

Since seizing power, Thailand’s military government has undertaken a systematic persecution of political opponents and has sought to silence all criticism and debate.

APHR strongly refutes claims made to the United Nations General Assembly by Thailand’s military-appointed foreign minister, Gen Tanasak Patimapragorn, on Saturday 27 September, that Thailand is not retreating from Democracy . The military general spoke, apparently without awareness of the deep irony, of the need for “respect for the rule of law… good governance, transparency, accountability and equal access to justice.” These are the very things that the military regime and its backers in Thailand have disregarded and systematically worked to destroy and undermine for the past eight years.

General Tanasak was the Chief of Defense Forces of the Royal Thai Army and a member of the same military academy as Prime Minister and coup leader Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha. Prayuth and Tanasak, Along with the majority of the senior military appointees of the current Thai junta, also played key roles in the coup of 2006. These, APHR argues, are very, very far from the necessary credentials to talk with any authority about democracy, justice and the rule of law.

The imposition of martial law coupled with sweeping crackdowns on freedom of assembly and expression and the use of arbitrary detentions and military trials of civilians since the 22 May coup have stripped the Thai people of their basic rights as guaranteed under international law. There are also serious allegations of the use of torture and other ill-treatment by Thai security forces against civilians in military detention.

At least 11 people have already been found guilty by military courts of violating NCPO Order No.7/2557, which prohibits public gatherings of five persons or more. Dozens more face military trials on similar charges. Military court verdicts under martial law are final and cannot be appealed; a direct contravention of the right to a fair trial.

Contrary to the claims of the ruling military junta, Thailand’s political crisis is in many ways a result of the disregard for the rule of law and democratic institutions and is not, as the ruling National Center for Peace and Order (NCPO) argues, a valid reason for flouting them.

If Gen Prayuth and his administration does not support the concepts of democracy, human rights, justice and the rule of law, then it should be forthright about it and desist from attempts to hide behind Orwellian double-speak and “national security” as justification for flagrant human rights violations, APHR said. The military government’s claims are disrespectful and deeply offensive to the many human rights defenders who have had their rights violated by this regime.

Thailand invoked Article 4 of the ICCPR on 20 May 2014 to derogate from its obligations to promote, protect and respect a range of rights, including those of freedom of movement, fair trial, and freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

The NCPO has argued that these “temporary” curbs on human rights are necessary in the face of national security threats, but they fail to meet requirements in regards to the principle of proportionality; namely regarding exigency of the rights violations in regards to the designated “threat to the nation”, and the severity, duration and scope of these restrictions. APHR also argues that these restrictions have been applied in a discriminatory manner, targeting people for their political views.

“Martial law is a crude and extreme tool. Thailand’s self-appointed leader, Gen Prayuth, personally responsible for overthrowing democracy, human rights, justice and the rule of law, sees fit to lecture society on how to be a good citizen, and apparently sees no irony in that,” said Charles Santiago, APHR Vice President and Malaysian MP.

“From the conversations we are hearing in the region, the relative silence from ASEAN and the international community on Thailand’s regression is being seen as a green light for others to ignore their international human rights obligations, increase violations and further suppress civil society and undermine the rule of law.”