Archive for ‘Thailand’

April 22, 2015

Thailand plays the Russia card

Thailand plays the Russia card

by Pavin Chachavalpongpun

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2015/04/22/commentary/world-commentary/thailand-plays-russia-card/#.VTgXT5OVTQQ

On April 7-8, Dmitry Medvedev became the first Russian prime minister to visit Thailand in 25 years. The Russian leader’s visit to Bangkok was excessively publicized both to the benefit of Russia in expanding its presence in Southeast Asia, and to that of the military government of Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocho who took advantage of Medvedev’s high profile visit to legitimize his regime.

While in Thailand, Medvedev signed a number of bilateral agreements with his Thai counterpart, for example, to combat drug trafficking, boost investment and develop Thai energy sector. The two countries were ambitious in their goal to double annual bilateral trade next year to $10 billion.

As reported by the Russian media, around 0.9 percent of ASEAN exports are services to Russia and 2.8 percent of Russian exports are services to ASEAN. Thailand is the leading ASEAN nation trading with Russia at $2.3 billion, leaving far behind Vietnam with $609 million and Singapore at $364 million. Thailand hopes Russia will buy its over-produced rubber. On top of this, it expects to attract more Russian tourists. In 2014, Thailand drew 1.6 million Russian tourists. But so far, the total number is down 8.6 percent this year.

What is more important than the strengthening of diplomatic ties between Thailand and Russia is the fact that Medvedev’s trip to Bangkok came at the time when the Prayuth regime has been heavily criticized by certain Western governments and international organizations. They have condemned the Prayuth government for replacing martial law with sweeping security powers for the military, as an obstacle to the protection of the people’s rights.

Prayuth’s statement perfectly reflected the perception of Thailand vis-a-vis the game of international politics in which his country has been dealing with different great powers. Prayuth said, “Friends prove their worth when one is in trouble. Friends will help and understand,” purportedly to praise the Russian friendship at the expense of the United States, which has taken a harsher stance against his regime.

In response, Medvedev replied, “Thailand is a close friend in the Asia-Pacific region and we have long diplomatic relations. In two years we will mark our 120 years of relations.”

Preparation for Prayuth’s visit to Moscow, which could take place within months, is already underway. It is noteworthy that most Western nations have applied travel bans against top Thai military leaders. So Prayuth’s trip to Russia could be seen as a big slap in the face of these countries.

In Thailand, the exploitation of Medvedev’s visit to consolidate the position of the government has continued. A Thai government spokesperson has confirmed that Thailand will consider buying military weapons from Russia. This news is likely to irritate the U.S., which has long been an arms supplier for Thailand. In reality, however, Russia has always been an alternative source of military equipment for Thailand.

Ten year ago, when Thailand was under the Thaksin Shinawatra government, the country’s ties with Russia were strong. President Vladimir Putin became Russia’s major arms salesman and sought to expand arms sales with Thailand. His efforts was welcomed by Thaksin, who agreed to buy a dozen Sukhoi-30 fighter jets from Russia worth $500 million. In 2015, Russia has subtly engaged itself in Thailand’s political situation to regain its political foothold, a move that has chilled U.S.-Thai relations.

But the renewed friendly relations between Thailand and Russia must be analyzed in the context of the turbulence in the Thai domestic politics. Since the coup of May 2014, an army of Western nations, including the U.S, Australia, and EU states, has imposed soft sanctions against the military junta.

To lessen the impact of Western sanctions, the Thai military government has turned to its neighboring countries to seek their endorsement of its regime. Powerful dignitaries from Myanmar and Cambodia all paid visits to Thailand while offering their support for the military government. China, in particular, is playing the role of a legitimacy provider to the Thai junta, which to a great extent has permitted Thailand to withstand outside pressure.

Now Russia is following in the footsteps of China and some of Thailand’s friends in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. But this will only further deepen the level of competition among foreign powers in regards to their relationships with Thailand. Already the U.S. has retaliated, stepped up its criticism of the shrinking of democratic space in Thailand and the continued abuses of human rights there.

In Washington’s latest move, President Barack Obama finally announced his nomination for U.S. ambassador to Thailand, after the post remained vacant for six months. But his choice of Glyn Townsend Davies, the former U.S. special representative for North Korea Policy, has raised many eyebrows.

The U.S.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies said, “A career diplomat, Davies is expected to put his knowledge of crisis diplomacy to good use in the context of Thailand’s uncertain political landscape. Expect Davies to continue calling on the Thai military and interim government to restore democracy and show support for the civil and political rights of the Thai people.” This will surely further put U.S.-Thai ties under strains.

Although the political drama in Thailand is far from over, Medvedev’s trip to Bangkok allowed a convenient break for the junta from the heat. Russia has helped raise the Thai military’s confidence in prolonging its rule of Thailand. But Moscow’s move, unfortunately, will not improve the Thai political situation either now or in the long run.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

 

April 3, 2015

UN expert dismayed over Thai leader’s intimidating statements against freedom of the press

UN expert dismayed over Thai leader’s intimidating statements against freedom of the press

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15784&LangID=E

GENEVA (1 April 2015) – United Nations expert on freedom of expression David Kaye today urged the Government of Thailand to unequivocally distance itself from the Thai’s leader intimidating statements against freedom of the press, and take immediate measures to allow space for debate and freedom of expression.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the leader of the coup that deposed the elected government of Thailand and assumed powers as Prime Minister in 2014, has said recently that journalists who criticize him or ‘causes 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.’

“I condemn General Prayuth’s statements categorically,” the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression stressed. “After a year of killings and terrible violence against journalists worldwide, such statements are simply outrageous”.

The Special Rapporteur noted that he receives reports from all over the world about attacks, killings and record numbers of journalists imprisoned, “designed to silence criticism and deny citizens the right of access to information.”

“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 said. “Intimidation of journalists is by definition an attack on the public’s right to know.”

“There is no sense that General Prayuth spoke in jest,” the expert said. “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 stated that Thailand should take immediate steps to lift the nationwide imposition of martial law, while expressing strong concerns about possible invocation of section 44 of the Interim Constitution that would further provide General Prayuth an unlimited authority to issue legislative, executive or judicial order.

“Freedom of expression and independent journalism, uninhibited by fear of reprisals, contribute to public debate and are essential for building inclusive societies and democracies,” Mr. Kaye said. “This includes the right of everyone’s to express criticism of public authorities.”

“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,” the human rights expert stressed.

The Special Rapporteur shared earlier his concerns regarding the increasing arrests and detentions under 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, which will shape the future of the country,” the expert concluded.

David Kaye (USA) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in August 2014 by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomOpinion/Pages/OpinionIndex.aspx

The UN Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page – Thailand: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/THIndex.aspx

For further information and media requests, please contact Marcelo Daher (+41 22 917 9431 / mdaher@ohchr.org) or write to freedex@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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April 3, 2015

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

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

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=50495#.VR8AF-GVTQQ

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.


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

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

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=50480#.VR8BkOGVTQQ

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.”


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

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

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=50044#.VR8CIuGVTQQ

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

Southeast Asia: UN rights office appeals for halt in executions for drug crimes

March 31, 2015

Thailand PM ‘to replace martial law’ with new restrictions

BBC News Asia

Thailand PM ‘to replace martial law’ with new restrictions

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-32126761

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha speaks to media in Bangkok (31 March 2015)

Gen Prayuth could potentially have more powers under the new emergency measures

Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha says he has asked Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej for permission to bring an end to martial law.

Martial law was put in place shortly before the army seized power last May, ousting the elected government following months of unrest.

The law banned public gatherings and heavily restricted the media.

Gen Prayuth said he would introduce new measures, which correspondents say could be even more sweeping.

Gen Prayuth, who led last year’s coup and has since been appointed prime minister, said the government was “waiting for the king to royally approve the disuse of martial law”.

“We have prepared Article 44 and will use it soon,” he told reporters.

‘Ultimate power’

Among other powers, article 44 of Thailand’s new constitution allows the prime minister to issue executive orders to “disrupt or suppress” threats to national security or the monarchy.

Gen Prayuth said soldiers would be “able to apprehend people, if an incident occurs, without an arrest warrant”.

The BBC’s Jonathan Head in Bangkok says the new measures have the potential to be even more sweeping than martial law.

Thai police arrest a pro-democracy activists (Feb 2015)

Thailand police have repeatedly arrested people for breaking the conditions of martial law, including gathering in groups of more than five people

Rights group Human Rights Watch said implementing article 44 would mean “ultimate power without accountability”.

“This is something very unique and worrying and it is not going to improve the rights situation and ongoing repression,” said spokesman Sunai Phasuk.

The Thai junta – officially known as the National Council for Peace and Order – has insisted that martial law is necessary to maintain stability after years of turbulent politics.

It has promised to restore democracy and hold elections in late 2015, but has repeatedly cracked down on dissent, jailing critics and censoring the media.

International players have voiced concern that the military is consolidating power, while the tourism industry – vital to Thailand’s economy – had complained that martial law was stifling the sector.

March 31, 2015

U.N. Agency Says Thailand’s Aviation Industry Is a ‘Significant Safety Concern’

U.N. Agency Says Thailand’s Aviation Industry Is a ‘Significant Safety Concern’

Thailand is facing bans on new international flights and increased inspections after the International Civil Aviation Organization flagged significant concerns about the country’s aviation safety, officials said Friday.

The ICAO’s designation of Thailand as a “significant safety concern” has not been announced publicly by the U.N. agency but governments were informed last week. Kwak Young-pil, an official from South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, said Friday that the ICAO made the designation on March 20.

Japan has blocked new flights from Thailand following the ICAO decision and South Korea is considering similar measures, officials said. Existing flights aren’t affected.

Among the airlines forced to cancel flights are budget carriers Thai AirAsia X, NokScoot and Asia Atlantic Airline, Thailand’s Department of Civil Aviation said in a statement. Flag carrier Thai Airways is also affected.

The disruptions come ahead of Thailand’s traditional new year, known as Songkran, a heavy travel season when airlines typically increase the number of flights. Thailand is one of the world’s top tourist destinations and its tourism industry is crucial to the economy, employing millions of people.

Thai Airways President Jarumporn Chotikasathein said the airline would have to cancel “about five” charter flights that were being planned for the April holiday schedule. He said Thai Airways and other Thai carriers will also have to undergo increased inspections by regulators from other countries as a result of the ICAO designation.

Thailand was audited by the ICAO in January, about a decade after its last assessment in 2005. Audits assess a country’s overall ability to ensure aviation safety. Among the areas considered are personnel licensing and training, airworthiness assessment and certification, accident investigation and airline operations oversight, according to a report by Watson Farley and Williams, an international law firm with a commercial transport practice.

The ICAO office in Bangkok referred questions to its headquarters in Montreal, which could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Thai ministry’s statement did not give details of the ICAO’s concerns or recommendations. It said that it planned to inform countries about the status of Thailand’s aviation safety and “the solutions to fix the faults that were found in the inspection as soon as possible.”

Japan’s Civil Aviation Bureau informed Thailand’s civil aviation department by email earlier this week that it will not allow new charter flights operated by Thai-registered carriers to fly into Japanese airports.

The Japanese ban covers any “change of aviation services” and also bars airlines from changing the type of aircraft normally used on scheduled routes, the Thai civil aviation department said.

In Tokyo, a bureau spokesman Noriaki Umezawa said the measure was a temporary one issued because of concerns the airlines may not fully meet international safety standards.

South Korean said it was considering a similar ban.

Kwak, the South Korean transport official, said it was highly unlikely that new flights would be approved. NokScoot was planning to start flights to Seoul’s Incheon Airport in May.

He said flights currently operating between Thailand and South Korea will not be affected.

Elaine Kurtenbach in Tokyo, Thanyarat Doksone in Bangkok and Tong-hyung Kim in Seoul, South Korea contributed.

Copyright (2015) Associated Press. All rights reserved.

This article was written by Jocelyn Gecker from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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