Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014 – Thailand
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Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. The king serves as head of state and has traditionally exerted strong influence. On May 22, in a bloodless coup, military and police leaders, taking the name of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and led by General Prayut Chan-Ocha, overthrew the interim government led by the Puea Thai political party. Puea Thai, led by Yingluck Shinawatra, had governed since 2011 following National Assembly lower house elections that were generally viewed as free and fair. The military-led NCPO maintained effective control over the security forces.
The coup leaders repealed the constitution (except for provisions related to the monarchy), suspended parliament, continued martial law imposed two days earlier on May 20, and issued numerous decrees severely limiting civil liberties, including restrictions on freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press. The NCPO summoned and detained, without charge, more than 900 political leaders, academics, journalists, and others, holding many for up to seven days. The NCPO promulgated an interim constitution on July 22 and appointed individuals to a National Legislative Assembly on July 31, the members of which unanimously selected coup leader and head of the army, General Prayut, as prime minister on August 21.
In addition to limitations on human rights occasioned by the coup and implemented by the NCPO, the most persistent human rights problems consisted of abuses by government security forces and local defense volunteers in the context of the continuing Malay-Muslim insurgency in the three southernmost provinces, and occasional excessive use of force by security forces, including police killing, torturing, and otherwise abusing criminal suspects, detainees, and prisoners. After the May 22 coup, citizens no longer had the ability to change the government through the right to vote in free and fair elections.
Other human rights problems included arbitrary arrests and detention; poor, overcrowded, and unsanitary prison and detention facilities; insufficient protection for vulnerable populations, including refugees; violence and discrimination against women; sex tourism; sexual exploitation of children; trafficking in persons; discrimination against persons with disabilities, minorities, hill tribe members, and foreign migrant workers; child labor; and some limitations on worker rights.
Authorities occasionally dismissed, arrested, prosecuted, and convicted security force members who committed abuses. Official impunity, however, continued to be a serious problem, especially in provinces where the 2005 Emergency Decree and the 2008 Internal Security Act (ISA) remained in effect. The military’s invocation of martial law nationwide on May 20 magnified this problem. Article 48 of the NCPO-imposed interim constitution grants immunity to coup leaders and their subordinates for any pre- or postcoup actions ordered by the NCPO, regardless of the legality of the action.
Insurgents in the southernmost provinces continued to commit human rights abuses, including attacks on civilian targets.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were continued reports that security forces at times used excessive and lethal force against criminal suspects and committed or were connected to extrajudicial, arbitrary, and unlawful killings. According to the Ministry of Interior’s Investigation and Legal Affairs Bureau, from August 2013 to June 2014 security forces–including police, military, and other agencies–killed 45 suspects during the arrest process. The police department with jurisdiction over the location of the killings investigated each case, although no details were available.
While there were no confirmed reports that the government or its agents committed politically motivated killings during the year, there were at least 28 deaths linked to attacks during large antigovernment demonstrations in Bangkok and elsewhere from late 2013 to May 2014. Unknown assailants shot and killed Suthin Thararin, a protest leader of the anti-Puea Thai government People’s Democratic Reform Committee, as he led demonstrators who blocked and closed a voting station in Bangkok on January 26 during national legislative elections. The shooting also injured nine others.
Armed individuals on January 22 shot and seriously injured Khwanchai Phraiphana Sarakham, a leader of the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (Red-Shirts)–allied with former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra–at his community radio station and residence compound in Udon Thani Province. Authorities charged six individuals involved in the attack: Maduenang Masae, a Territorial Defense Volunteer with the Narathiwat Provincial Authority; Master Sergeant Mawin Yangbua; Sergeant Wirot Phimsing; Sub-Lieutenant Pratya Chanrotphai; Sergeant Chanon Thapthimthong; and Sergeant Banchong Kanthathon, all of whom, except Maduenang, were assigned to the 19th Cavalry Battalion of the 9th Infantry Division in Kanchanaburi province. All individuals except Maduenang were free on bail as of August 1.
On April 23, unknown assailants shot and killed poet Kamol Duangphasuk, a vocal critic of the country’s lese majeste laws (see section 2.a.) and Red Shirt activist. The investigation of the killing continued as of November with no arrests.
There were reports of killings during the year in connection with the conflict in the southernmost provinces (see section 1.g.).
On August 28, the Criminal Court dismissed murder charges against former prime minister and current Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and his then deputy Suthep Thaugsuban for their roles in the 2010 clashes between security forces and antigovernment protesters in Bangkok and the Northeast. The court ruled it lacked jurisdiction because both individuals were public office holders at the time of the killings and had acted under an emergency decree. The court stated that only the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions had the authority to consider the allegations. Cases brought on behalf of individual victims against Abhisit and Suthep remained with the Department of Special Investigations (DSI), the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), and other government entities. As in previous cases, the DSI did not file charges against the soldiers who killed individuals as part of the government’s response to protests, since it found they acted in accordance with executive orders.
Thai security forces clashed with loggers engaged in illegal cross-border logging, mostly Cambodian citizens, throughout the year. On April 6, Thai security forces killed one Cambodian allegedly involved in illegal logging. In a clash at the border with Laos on June 6, one Thai officer was injured.
On April 17, a prominent ethnic Karen activist, Porlajee Rakchongcharoen (known as “Billy”), disappeared in southwest Thailand. Billy had led a legal fight against government authorities, including the superintendent of Kaengkrachan National Park in Petchaburi Province, Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn, whom community members alleged had ordered the destruction in 2011 of more than 100 houses and rice stocks belonging to more than 20 Karen households for their alleged encroachment into the park. At the time of his disappearance, Billy was reportedly traveling to meet with ethnic Karen villagers and activists to prepare for a court hearing. On April 18, Chaiwat stated that park authorities detained Billy on April 17 but released him after questioning. In an April 20 statement, Human Rights Watch urged, “Thai authorities should not stay silent about Billy’s case but explain what happened to him.” At year’s end police officials neither identified any suspects nor made any arrests.
After the coup security forces detained hundreds of activists and in some instances withheld information about their safety for brief periods before announcing their whereabouts. For instance, on September 5, plainclothes soldiers arrested Kittisak Soomsri at a teacher-training center in Bangkok. Military officials refused to acknowledge his detention for six days. On September 11, authorities charged Kittisak as one of the “men in black,” who allegedly initiated violent acts during the 2010 protests.
As of August the government had not taken action on the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances’ June 2011 request for a country visit.