Thailand: Address human rights concerns in order to be a credible and legitimate UNHRC member

Press release
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Paris, Bangkok, 20 October 2014: Thailand’s military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), must urgently address serious human rights concerns if the country wants to be a credible and legitimate member of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), FIDH and its member organization Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) urged today.

The call comes ahead of the election for 15 new HRC members on 21 October during the 69th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA). Thailand is one of the five candidates for the four vacant HRC seats allocated for the Asia-Pacific region. Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, and Qatar are the other candidates.

On 22 July 2014, in a letter to the UNGA President, Thailand’s Permanent Representative to the UN officially submitted the country’s candidature for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council for the 2015-2017 term. [1] The letter stated that Thailand attached the “utmost importance to the promotion and protection of the rights of all people.” The document listed 22 voluntary pledges and commitments for the promotion and protection of human rights at the national, regional, and international level.

FIDH and UCL believe that the NCPO’s actions are inconsistent with the requirements for Council membership, which demand members uphold the “highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” UNGA Resolution 60/251 states that the General Assembly, by a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting, may suspend membership of HRC members that commit gross and systematic human rights violations.

Since the Thai military’s declaration of martial law on 20 May and its overthrowing of a democratically-elected government two days later, the human rights situation in the country has dramatically deteriorated.

As of 10 October, military and police had arbitrarily arrested at least 289 people, including political activists, human rights defenders, and anti-lèse-majesté advocates. At least 107 individuals were detained in connection with peaceful anti-coup demonstrations. In many cases, detainees were held for several days at undisclosed places of detention - including military bases - without being charged with any alleged crimes. They were denied the right of access to a lawyer and communication with family members.

After seizing power, the NCPO systematically silenced dissident voices. Authorities harassed and detained academics, writers, and journalists. On 2 and 18 September, the NCPO forced activists and academics to cancel two public talks on democracy and human rights. On 19 September, NCPO head General Prayuth Chan-ocha said that public forums discussing democracy, elections or criticizing the government were banned. The NCPO also acted to curb online criticism. From 22 May, the NCPO blocked more than 200 websites and 500 URLs that were deemed a threat to “national security.”

Despite Thailand’s pledge “to take into account the recommendations received from UN human rights mechanisms in order to improve the human rights situation in the country,” the NCPO repeatedly disregarded such recommendations and acted in violation of the country’s obligations under international law.

In June 2014, the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT), the body tasked with monitoring the implementation of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment by its State parties, said it was “deeply concerned” over the Thai Army’s 20 May declaration of martial. The CAT urged Thailand to “adhere strictly to the absolute prohibition of torture” and to take all necessary measures to ensure that all allegations of torture or ill-treatment are promptly, thoroughly, and impartially investigated. [2]

After the military seized power, numerous credible allegations emerged of torture and ill-treatment of detainees, including many individuals who had been taken into custody in connection with their opposition to the coup. The junta ignored the CAT’s recommendations and failed to comply with Thailand’s obligations under the Convention Against Torture by refusing to investigate all allegations of torture. The NCPO issued a blanket denial and simply claimed that no detainees were ever mistreated or harmed.

The NCPO also disregarded several recommendations issued by UN rights bodies with regard to the right to freedom of expression. On 19 August, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called on the NCPO to ensure that Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws comply with the country’s obligations under international human rights law, especially the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The call echoed similar recommendations made by UN bodies in previous years. In 2013, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed support for amendments to Article 112 of the Criminal Code. In 2011, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression and opinion urged Thailand to amend Article 112 because it was too vague and prescribed long maximum sentences that were contrary to permissible restrictions on freedom of expression under the ICCPR.

Instead of addressing the UN’s concerns, the NCPO stepped up persecution of alleged violators of lèse-majesté laws. Since 22 May, at least 18 individuals have been investigated or detained and four have been sentenced to prison terms of up to 15 years on lèse-majesté charges under Article 112 of the Criminal Code. In addition, on 19 September, the Court of Appeals upheld the Bangkok Criminal Court’s lèse-majesté conviction of Somyot Phrueksakasemsuk and sentenced him to 10 years in prison.

The NCPO also cancelled a planned country visit by a UN Special Rapporteur. Following the military coup, the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry informed the UN that the official visit to Thailand by Professor Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, would be postponed until the end of the year. The previous administration led by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had already agreed to the visit by Professor Méndez, which was scheduled to take place from 4 to 18 August 2014. [3]

In addition, NCPO edicts contradict Thailand’s promise to “ensure access to justice for all without discrimination and continue to fight against impunity.” Under NCPO order 37, issued on 25 May 2014, several criminal offenses, including alleged violations of lèse-majesté laws and NCPO orders, fall under the jurisdiction of military courts. As of October 10 at least 68 individuals faced criminal prosecution before military courts. Order 37 negatively affect the rights of the accused since proceedings before military court limit guarantees for a fair trial, including the defendant’s right to appeal.

The interim constitution, unilaterally drafted by the NCPO and enacted on 22 July 2014, contains several clauses that grant blanket immunity to the coup-makers. Article 47 renders all NCPO orders and announcements legal. Article 48 exempts the NCPO and their subordinates from any accountability for their actions. These provisions effectively deny victims of human rights abuses access to the judiciary to seek remedies in relation to NCPO orders and actions, in breach of Thailand’s obligations under international law.

The NCPO’s actions also contradicted Thailand’s declared commitment to promoting the rights of the poor. Following the military coup, the NCPO embarked on a campaign of forced evictions of many communities in forest reserves which deprived them of their agricultural land and livelihood. The crackdown stemmed from NCPO order number 64, issued on 14 June 2014, which empowered government agencies to take action to put an end to encroachment on forest reserves nationwide. According to media reports, since the military coup, 18 communities across the country have been affected by NCPO order number 64.

Finally, Thailand pledged to “study the possibility” of abolishing the death penalty. However, instead of proposing a reduction of the number of offenses punishable by death, the NCPO proposed legislation that would introduce new capital crimes.

FIDH and UCL urge the NCPO to address key human rights concerns to ensure that, if elected, Thailand will not tarnish the UN body’s reputation and undermine its effectiveness. Important steps must include the following:

• Immediately lift martial law, cease all arbitrary arrests and detentions of individuals using provisions of martial law, and ensure that no civilians are tried before military courts.
• Lift media censorship and all other restrictions to the right to freedom of expression, movement, and peaceful assembly.
• Comply with Thailand’s international human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
• Fully implement recommendations by UN human rights bodies, including the UN Committee Against Torture’s (CAT) recommendations issued in its June 2014 Concluding Observation on Thailand.
• Thoroughly and impartially investigate all allegations of torture and ill-treatment in military custody and urgently invite Professor Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, to conduct and official visit to Thailand.
• Enact a constitution that is drafted through a time-bound, inclusive, and transparent process and that is subject to approval through a referendum.

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