THAILAND: Proposal to introduce national security law in Thailand must be vigorously and unequivocally opposed

The proposal now being discussed within the government of Thailand to introduce a national security law allowing prolonged detention without judicial recourse is an invitation for national disaster. Such a law would only exacerbate the already volatile security situation in the country, while at the same time violating the principles underpinning the constitution of Thailand and obligations under international law. Judging from the negative experiences of many countries that have introduced national security laws, including those in Asia, the effect of such a law will not be to end separatist struggle, but to legitimise it. It will also put beyond reach any solution to the increasingly intractable security problems it is intended to address. 
A common feature among political leaders looking to obtain authoritarian control is to propose national security legislation of this type. The key feature of the Internal Security Act in Singapore, and its equivalent in Malaysia, which the government of Thailand is reported to be studying, is that the prime minister in both cases holds dictatorial power. The prime minister in either Malaysia or Singapore can simply sign a document to put someone under detention without access to the courts. While the initial period can be for three years, this can be extended indefinitely. One prisoner in Singapore, Chia Thye Poh, was detained without charge or trial for 23 years, and kept under a restriction order for another nine years. Inevitably, many of those detained under the laws in Singapore and Malaysia have been political opponents of the ruling parties. The effect has been to create defacto one-party systems of political control. In Singapore there is hardly any room for political dissent. The shifting of government from one party to the next, which ensures a vibrant and transparent civil society, has been rendered impossible by way of the internal security law. A similar situation has transpired in Malaysia. 
By contrast, the recent history of Thailand is one in which people have struggled hard to develop a vigorous democracy. Controls on political power have been developed through extensive nationwide consultations and have been guaranteed under the constitution and attendant laws and offices. A similar law if introduced into Thailand would have a chilling effect on this struggle, and the entire political order would be adversely affected. Although the pretext for introducing the law is the current concern with catching “terrorists”, such a law will apply to everyone. As criminal cases are routinely fabricated for political reasons in Thailand, there can be little doubt that any person in the country could become a target of the law. Just going by the manner with which odious and outdated criminal defamation provisions are applied to stifle legitimate criticism of public figures, there are very good reasons for all people in the country to be concerned by this latest proposal. 
But enforcement of such a law in Thailand would not come easily. There are bound to be strong reactions from many people. Some may be put down violently, or turn violent. The recent mass killings and disappearances in the south of the country have already deeply polarised the society and strengthened the hands of militants. The handing of greater powers to the security forces there will only further embolden those arguing that a violent response is needed and justified in the name of self-defence. Already under current provisions the police and other security forces are known to have committed gross abuses on detainees, including extremely brutal forms of torture. Under longer periods of detention without basic civil liberties, these can only be expected to greatly increase. Thus, the introduction of such a law would be to invite a protracted period of political violence to the entire country, accompanied by a dramatic increase in gross human rights abuses. 
Rather than Singapore and Malaysia, Thailand ought to be learning from the lessons of two other neighbours that have had similar legislation: Burma and Sri Lanka. In both of those countries, repressive laws and overly aggressive state actions fanned and aided separatist movements. Thailand has been forced to deal directly with the effects of protracted war and instability in Burma. Meanwhile, it was not long ago that it was hosting meetings to bring about a peace agreement between the warring parties in Sri Lanka. It would be a sad irony if the government Thailand now creates a similar situation within its own borders. 
The international community has consistently condemned the Internal Security Act in both Singapore and Malaysia. As a result, those two governments have placed themselves outside the global exchange on human rights, not even becoming parties to the international human rights treaties. As a result, in human rights terms, Singapore and Malaysia are pariah states. It had not been the desire of Thailand to be treated likewise. In fact, past governments in Thailand have tried to win a position for themselves as leading a country that respects international norms and standards on human rights. 
One step that Thailand has taken to secure its position in the international human rights community has been to ratify the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. Under that treaty and other international law, basic human rights principles may be derogated only “in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation and the existence of which is officially proclaimed?to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation”. These words have been very stringently interpreted to stress that they must be applied to the minimum extent necessary. National security laws of the type currently proposed typically far exceed these provisions. 
Despite the setbacks of recent times, Thailand still enjoys a relatively good human rights reputation in the international community. The willingness of such persons as the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions to volunteer their expertise in helping the country through this difficult period attests to this residual goodwill. Were the proposed national security legislation adopted, it would overnight completely undermine the position that Thailand as yet holds in the international community. 
The proposal to introduce national security legislation in Thailand is a proposal to introduce a self-defeating strategy that will damage the entire country. Every right-thinking person, and particularly those who cherish democracy and human rights, should resist this proposal from its inception. If strong resistance is not put up at such an important moment, it may take decades of struggle and heavy sacrifices to undo the damage done. The Asian Human Rights Commission urges the government of Thailand to reconsider this deeply flawed and counterproductive course of action, and desist from it altogether. All citizens of Thailand should join together to vigorously and unequivocally resist this regressive bid and seek support from the international community to secure its defeat. 

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-57-2004
Countries : Thailand,
Issues : Rule of law, State of emergency & martial law, Torture,