HRW dismisses Thai concession

The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Source: Wikimedia


Thailand’s decision not to bring fresh military trials of civilians is a limited step that appears intended to deflect condemnation at the UN Human Rights Council, argues Human Rights Watch.

Thailand’s National Council for Peace and Order’s (NCPO) grip on power was bolstered by ongoing military trials of civilians and the extensive control of the police, the NGO said.

The 33rd session of the UN Human Rights Council begins in Geneva this week.

“No one should be fooled by the Thai junta’s sleight of hand just before the Human Rights Council begins meeting in Geneva,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director. “The decision will spare many Thai civilians the injustice of a military trial, but repressive military rule is still a reality in Thailand.”

Watana Muangsook, a politician loyal to the democratically elected government that was deposed by the May 2014 coup, who has been detained several times for criticising military rule, also said the order was little more than window-dressing.

“If the NCPO is really sincere they should abolish all orders that violate human rights… such as the military’s authorisation to arrest, search and detain people without warrants,” he posted on Facebook.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha this week revoked three of his junta’s orders that empowered military courts to try civilians for national security offences, including sedition and sweeping lese majeste crimes for insulting the monarchy. The action is not retroactive and does not affect the more than 1,000 cases against civilians ongoing in military courts. The armed forces also retained the power to arrest, detain and interrogate civilians without safeguards against abuse or accountability for human rights violations, HRW said.

The New York-based activist group said: “Fundamental rights and freedoms that have been repressed since the May 2014 coup remain curtailed. Expression of dissenting opinions against the junta, peaceful opposition to military rule, criticism of the monarchy and public assembly of more than five people are still criminal offences. Since May 2014, at least 1,811 civilians have been brought before military courts across Thailand.”

HRW said Thailand, as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, had vowed to take measures to ensure and uphold basic legal rights. Under the agreement, governments are prohibited from using military courts to try civilians when a civil justice system can still function.

In May, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern that the rules governing Thai military courts violated legal rights protected under the covenant. Bangkok is under international pressure to move all civilian cases out of military courts, drop cases that deal with restrictions of fundamental rights and end the junta’s unaccountable power to interrogate civilians.

HRW’s Adams announced: “General Prayut should demonstrate that he is sincere about ending military trials of civilians by dropping all pending cases or transferring them to civilian courts. This would be a long overdue and meaningful step toward ending repression, respecting basic rights, and returning the country to democratic civilian rule.”