Thailand: UN rights chief warns against Government’s ‘draconian’ powers

Thailand: UN rights chief warns against Government’s ‘draconian’ powers

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High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

2 April 2015 – The top United Nations human rights official has expressed alarm at the Government of Thailand’s decision to bestow wide-ranging powers upon General Prayuth Chan-ocha – the leader of the military coup that deposed Thailand’s elected Government in 2014 and, currently, the country’s Prime Minister.

According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), on 1 April, the Thai military Government was granted permission to revoke martial law and replace it with extraordinary powers under article 44 of the country’s Interim Constitution.

“Normally, I would welcome the lifting of martial law – and indeed strongly advocated for it to be lifted in Thailand,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a news release.

“But I am alarmed at the decision to replace martial law with something even more draconian, which bestows unlimited power on the current Prime Minister without any judicial oversight at all. This clearly leaves the door wide open to serious violations of fundamental human rights.”

The new powers grant military personnel down to the rank of Second Lieutenant the ability to be appointed as so-called peace and maintenance officers with sweeping law enforcement powers, including to search, arrest and detain without judicial oversight. In addition, they are empowered to conduct any other action as determined by the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO).

In the news release, OHCHR explained that Article 44 effectively allows the head of the NCPO, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, to issue “any legislative, executive or judicial order.” For his part, Mr. Zeid voiced unease that the NCPO order also “annihilates freedom of expression” – a concern reiterated yesterday by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye.

“It explicitly gives these military peace and order maintenance officers the authority to prohibit ‘the reporting of news’ or sale or distribution of books, publications, or any other medium that ‘may create public fear or are intended to distort news and information to cause misunderstandings which could affect national security or public order,’” the UN rights chief continued.

“Freedom of assembly also remains severely curtailed, with heavy punishment earmarked for protesters who gather in groups of more than five.”

“I urge the Thai Government to comply with its obligations under international human rights law and promptly restore normal civilian rule of law, as it pledged to do after the coup in May last year,” he concluded.

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Thailand must end ‘criminalization’ of dissenting voices – UN expert

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Photo: UNAMI

1 April 2015 – A United Nations human rights expert has urged the Government of Thailand to immediately and unequivocally distance itself from the “intimidating” statements made by its leader, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, in which he threatened the freedom and lives of the country’s journalists.

The expert says that according to reports, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the leader of the military coup that deposed Thailand’s elected Government in 2014 and, currently, the country’s Prime Minister, recently declared that journalists who criticize him or “cause divisions” could be subjected to execution and that he enjoys “the power to close down the media, arrest people, order for people to be shot.”

“After a year of killings and terrible violence against journalists worldwide, such statements are simply outrageous,” the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, exclaimed in a news release issued today.

“Journalists of all kinds perform one of the most fundamental tasks in a democratic society, throwing light on whether and how Governments behave in accordance with the rule of law or engage in corruption and human rights abuses,” he added. “Intimidation of journalists is by definition an attack on the public’s right to know.”

The UN expert called on the Thai Government to take immediate steps to lift the nationwide imposition of martial law and declared that freedom of expression and independent journalism were “essential” for building inclusive societies and democracies.

“Not only Governments and public officials should exhibit respect for the role of journalists, but actually should publicly condemn all forms of threats and attacks against journalists at the highest political level and ensure no one is subject to intimidations,” Mr. Kaye continued.

“There is no sense that General Prayuth spoke in jest. But even if he did, the idea that the killing of journalists – let alone the shutting down of media in light of criticism – can be a laughing matter is reprehensible.”

The Special Rapporteur – who is, by UN statute, an independent and unremunerated expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council – also expressed concern with the increasing arrests and detentions under Thailand’s lese majesté law and Computer Crime Act and called for an end to the criminalization of dissenting opinions.

“This is particularly crucial now at the moment of drafting the new Constitution,” he concluded, “which will shape the future of the country.”

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Proposed amendments to military court laws in Thailand draw UN rights office concern

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Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). UN Photo

10 February 2015 – The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is concerned that a number of proposed amendments to Thailand’s law relating to military courts, which are due for consideration this week, are not in line with international standards, according to a the High Commissioner’s spokesperson.

The country’s National Legislative Assembly, which was appointed by the military government in 2014, is expected to adopt a series of amendments to the 1955 Act on the Organization of Military Courts on Thursday.

“We are particularly concerned that the proposed amendment to section 46 would authorize military commanders to issue detention orders for both military personnel and civilians under the Criminal Procedure Code for up to 84 days with no judicial oversight,” said Rupert Colville. “Since the May 2014 coup, military courts have had jurisdiction over civilians for specific offenses.”

The proposed amendment on judicial oversight of military detention could be applied in such cases, Mr. Colville said, pointing out that detention without judicial review breaches the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party.

Under Article 9 of the Covenant, a person detained on suspicion of a criminal offence is to be brought promptly before a judge, with the Human Rights Council, which oversees the ICCPR, interpreting “promptly” to mean within a few days.

“OHCHR notes assurances by the current Government of its commitment to uphold its international human rights obligations,” said the Spokesperson. “We urge the National Legislative Assembly to revise the proposed amendments in line with international human rights standards, including the right to judicial review of detention, right to counsel and right to appeal.”

The Office called on the Government to restrict use of military courts to military offences committed by military personnel and recalled the ICCPR obligation to ensure that everyone has the right to a “fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law” (article 14), noting also that the Human Rights Council underlined that the military character of a trial should in no way affect such rights.

News Tracker: past stories on this issue

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