THAILAND: Resurgent military threatens rights, law

(Hong Kong, December 10, 2007) Resurgent military authoritarianism has greatly undermined the rule of law and human rights in Thailand, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) said on Monday.

In its annual report on human rights conditions in Thailand released to coincide with International Human Rights Day, December 10, the Hong Kong-based regional rights group said that throughout 2007 “the military and its allies have thoroughly and decisively reasserted their prerogative to determine the shape and direction of the country”.

It points to the fraudulent constitutional referendum, persistent use of martial law and emergency regulations, the introduction of new patently ambiguous laws on the pretext of “national security”, rejuvenation and expansion of outdated military institutions, and compromising of the judiciary as just some of the causes for concern.

“The people of Thailand are now caught in strange and contradictory circumstances,” the AHRC says in the report’s conclusion.

“On the one hand, the social and economic life of their country is undeniably in the 21st century. On the other hand, its political and legal life has now been firmly thrown back to the 1980s,” it says, warning that there would be an increase in cynicism and withdrawal of good people from public life as a result of the resurge in military control.

Basil Fernando, executive director of the AHRC, said that the level of military control over key public institutions in Thailand was now higher than at any time in the last two decades.

“From day one after last year’s coup, we warned that the army was not embarking on a project to remove an autocratic civilian prime minister but to re-establish itself as the foremost national institution in Thailand,” Fernando said.

“Still many people in the country are only beginning to come to terms with the coup’s consequences,” he said.

“When the military hands government back to an elected parliament next year, it won’t matter who sits in the national assembly because so much power has already been diverted back into the executive and pliant upper judiciary that the army will be free to continue with its own agenda without fear of interference or strong opposition from other parts of government,” Fernando added.

The report details and examines some of the individual cases on which the AHRC worked throughout the year, including assaults, torture and killings by military personnel and paramilitary units in various parts of the country.

It also throws a spotlight on alleged killings, torture and abductions by the police in the northeastern province of Kalasin, none of whom have ever been prosecuted, despite a number of investigations.

Some extracts from follow.

The AHRC has prepared similar reports for other countries throughout Asia, including the Philippines, Indonesia, Burma, Cambodia, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Korea, which can be downloaded from:

The report on Thailand is available in PDF format directly from:

In June, the sister organisation of the AHRC, the Asian Legal Resource Centre, released a special edition of its bimonthly periodical, article 2, on threats to constitutionalism in Thailand.

That edition is available online at:

Extracts from the Asian Human Rights Commission 2007 Report

Old order versus new 
“To prevent Thaksin [Shinawatra] – or anyone else like him – from resurfacing, the military has concluded that it is necessary to deny any version of constitutional government that may again open the door to his methods. In short, this means denying any form of genuine constitutionalism at all, as it would necessarily oblige the military and its allies to be answerable to the legislature, not vice versa.”

The least dangerous branch
“Many persons have wrongly interpreted the new constitution as giving dangerous authority to the judiciary in Thailand by virtue of a gamut of new powers it affords senior judges. Nothing could be further from the truth. By virtue of these powers, the upper courts are today far more compromised and weaker than before.”

Martial law, emergency regulations, computer crimes, internal security and other patent ambiguities
“One of the key features of law, as it is properly understood, is certainty. This is a reason for its written codification: so that everyone may be informed of its contents and features, and so that the average person may be able to guide their behaviour accordingly. Where an act is so vague as to ensure that anything that the state deems threatening to its interests can fall within its ambit, upon what grounds can a person decide what to do or what not to do to stay within the confines of the law? Can it properly be called a law at all?”

Police reforms without public participation or commonsense
“The real issue for the police in Thailand is command responsibility. The notion that superior officers should be held fully accountable for the wrongdoing of subordinates has not yet entered into the system of policing in Thailand in any significant way. On the contrary, command responsibility there is understood largely as senior officers defending their subordinates against allegations of wrongdoing, even in the most absurd circumstances…”

Kalasin, police, killings, disappearances, torture
“Now that Thailand has, at the start of October, finally acceded to the UN Convention against Torture — after years of work by many persons, among them human rights advocates and personnel in its justice ministry “it must back the move with the legal and institutional changes needed to give it effect.”

The fondness for authority and Thailand’s contradiction
“While the interim government has repeatedly mouthed its concern for the rule of law and human rights, it has throughout 2007 proved that in reality it is diametrically opposed to them. The general election set for the end of December will do nothing to change this. The military has already re-cemented its position at the centre of key institutions and regardless of whatever else happens it will use its renewed authority to full effect.”

Document Type : Press Release
Document ID : AHRC-PL-053-2007
Countries : Thailand,
Issues : Military,