THAILAND: Human Rights at Risk as State of Emergency Declared

Under the Emergency Decree on Government Administration in a State of Emergency (2005), the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra decreed a State of Emergency in Bangkok and surrounding areas on January 22, 2014.

Under the Emergency Decree on Government Administration in a State of Emergency (2005), the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra decreed a State of Emergency in Bangkok and surrounding areas on January 22, 2014. The Emergency Decree gives blanket powers to state actors to take a wide range of actions to resolve the State of Emergency, including making arrests, censoring the press, restricting movement and using armed force and will be in force for 60 days. The announcement of the Emergency Decree has come after over two months of protracted, contentious protests by the People’s Democratic Reform Council (PRDC) led by former deputy prime minister, Suthep Thaugsuban, against the government. The goal of these protests has been to oust the current government and replace it with an appointed council. At times the protests have become violent, particularly against those perceived as government supporters or other critics. While the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is aware of the threats posed to human rights, as well as the rule of law in a broad sense, by the PDRC protests, we would also like to condemn the declaration of the Emergency Decree and warn that it creates a legal vacuum in which the government can violate human rights in the name of security.

The protests of the PRDC are one more round in the ongoing political conflict that began with the September 19, 2006 coup in Thailand. This conflict, often framed in terms of the royalist-nationalist “Yellow Shirts” against the populist “Red Shirts,” is a heterogeneous conflict about who has a right to participate in the governance of the country. In total, since the protests began in November 2013, 10 people have been killed and over 100 injured. While these deaths and injuries are still being investigated, preliminary reports suggest that causes have included clashes between the PDRC and Red Shirt activists, clashes between the PDRC and state security forces, and instances of bombing and shooting in the area of the protests.

Although the PDRC is a new organization which emerged in late 2013, many of the leaders and participants are Yellow Shirts. This round began as protests in Bangkok against the draft amnesty bill in early November 2013 and then expanded to a wide call for the resignation of the PM Yingluck government and replacement of it by a royally-appointed People’s Council of “good people” to “reform” the country before holding new elections. On December 9, 2013, amidst the rising protests, PM Yingluck dissolved parliament and new elections were scheduled for February 2, 2014. The PDRC, however, was not satisfied. They have vowed to continue their protests occupying different parts of Bangkok and provincial halls until their demands for “reform” are carried out before new elections are held. The PDRC has not fully or clearly defined what they mean by “reform,” nor what would satisfy them enough to end their protests. Although the PDRC has claimed to be fully nonviolent, and has employed some tactics of civil disobedience, their rhetoric and actions also contain a violent undercurrent. In areas of Bangkok occupied by the PDRC, citizens who wish to enter the area may be prevented from doing so by the PDRC guards or subject to search and harassment. In a report carried by Prachatai online newspaper, two men who were detained by the PDRC describe being interrogated and viciously beaten because they were judged to be Red Shirts [ click here to read the Thai-language report]. The kind of violence these two men were subject to suggests that despite its claims to civil disobedience, the PDRC is becoming a para-state organization. In this respect it is not unique: since the 2006 coup, and particularly since 2009, there has been use of violence by para-military elements on all sides of the conflict. In addition to violating the human rights of those are victimized by this violence, this also damages the broader context of the promotion and consolidation of human rights and the rule of law, which all sides claim to support. The AHRC therefore calls on all civilian parties in this conflict to respect human rights and refrain from using violence.

The AHRC is concerned that the Emergency Decree may create the conditions for the government to violate rights, rather than protect them. The Emergency Decree gives authorities wide powers, including arbitrary arrest and detention, the setting of a curfew, and the curtailing of the circulation of news and other information. When the announcement was made on Monday, January 21, 2014, caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul explained that the decree was being used in order to use the law to address the violations of law committed by the PDRC demonstrators and for democracy to progress in Thailand. As the AHRC has repeatedly documented in the case of three southernmost provinces of Thailand, which has been under the Emergency Decree since July 2005, the decree creates a dangerous legal vacuum in which arbitrary detention and torture have frequently occurred, and in which redress is frequently difficult (see AHRC End Emergency Decree in Thailand). In a statement submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in May 2010, the Asian Legal Resource Center (ALRC), the sister organization of the AHRC, noted that the Emergency Decree was used by the Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva government to arbitrarily detain and interrogate its critics (ALRC-CWS-14-01-2010). Despite the state intentions of the current government to use the Emergency Decree in the service of protecting democracy, the very form of the law makes this impossible. Therefore, the Asian Human Rights Commission also reiterates its calls, made since the time of the decree’s introduction, that this measure be revoked and for the government of Thailand to use only ordinary laws, consistent with international human rights standards, in dealing with political exigencies.