Thailand: Interim Constitution Provides Sweeping Powers

(New York) – The Thai military junta should amend the interim constitution it unilaterally promulgated that gives it sweeping powers without accountability or safeguards against human rights violations.

(New York) – The Thai military junta should amend the interim constitution it unilaterally promulgated that gives it sweeping powers without accountability or safeguards against human rights violations.

On July 22, 2014, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the head of the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), proclaimed the 2014 interim constitution. The junta’s advisory team drafted the 48-section document without public consultation, and it was signed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

“The interim constitution attempts to give legal justification to the sweeping and unaccountable power taken by the military junta,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of paving the way for a return to democratic, civilian rule, the Thai junta has granted itself unchecked authority to do almost anything it wants, including committing rights abuses with impunity.”

The interim constitution’s provisions on human rights are very weak, Human Rights Watch said. The interim constitution permits the NCPO to carry out policies and actions without any effective oversight or accountability for human rights abuses. While section 4 vaguely recognizes human rights and liberties arising from Thailand’s democratic traditions and international obligations, the NCPO has broad authority under sections 44 and 47 to limit, suspend, or suppress fundamental human rights protections. 

Section 44 provides the NCPO with wide discretion to issue orders and undertake acts the military authorities deem appropriate, regardless of the human rights implications.  Specifically, “where the head of the NCPO is of opinion that it is necessary for the benefit of reforms in any field, or to strengthen public unity and harmony, or for the prevention, disruption or suppression of any act that undermines public peace and order or national security, the monarchy, national economics or administration of State affairs,” the head of the NCPO is empowered to “issue orders, suspend or act as deemed necessary. … Such actions are completely legal and constitutional.” This sweeping power is to be carried out without any judicial or other oversight. The NCPO head only needs to report his decisions and actions to the National Legislative Assembly and the prime minister immediately after they are taken.

Section 48 of the interim constitution provides that NCPO members and anyone carrying out actions on behalf of the NCPO, including the May 22 coup, “shall be absolutely exempted from any wrongdoing, responsibility and liabilities.” Despite this provision, international human rights law ensures the right to a remedy for human rights violations and places a duty on governments to investigate allegations of serious human rights violations and prosecute those responsible, Human Rights Watch said.

The interim constitution under sections 6, 30, and 32 creates a closed and undemocratic political system under which the NCPO will hand-pick members of the National Legislative Assembly, the National Reform Council, and the Constitution Drafting Committee. The National Reform Council is to examine and make recommendations on creating a democracy, holding free and fair elections, and considering other various reforms. There is no clear time frame for the Constitution Drafting Committee to present the draft constitution, which will not require public consultation or approval by referendum.

Sections 8 and 33 broadly bar people who have held positions in political parties over the past three years from becoming members of the National Legislative Assembly and the Constitutional Drafting Committee. Such restrictions do not apply to members of the NCPO and serving military and police personnel, or other government officials. These provisions make it possible for General Prayuth to take the office of prime minister while maintaining leadership over the NCPO should he decide to do so, Human Rights Watch said.   

Since the military coup on May 22, Human Rights Watch has documented numerous violations of human rights by junta. The NCPO, which consists of all branches of the armed forces and police, has enforced widespread censorship, detained more than 300 people—most without charge, banned public gatherings, and issued repressive orders targeting activists and grassroots groups. Section 47 of the interim constitution legalizes those abuses by providing that all announcements and orders of NCPO since the coup are deemed to be “completely legal and constitutional.”

“The NCPO’s claims that the interim constitution is essential for restoring electoral democracy and civilian rule in Thailand are a façade for continuing control by the junta,” Adams said. “By tightening their control, the generals are backtracking on their repeated promises to restore democracy in Thailand. This is a charter for dictatorship.”