UN body slams ongoing violations of civil and political rights

Press release
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(Bangkok, Geneva, Paris) Thailand’s military junta must take immediate steps towards the implementation of key recommendations made by a United Nations (UN) human rights body, FIDH and its member organizations Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw) said today.

“During the recent review of Thailand’s human rights record, the Thai government delegation boasted that the military brought ‘a breath of fresh air’ to the country. In fact, the UN body’s conclusions show that the junta is suffocating human rights.”

Dimitris Christopoulos, FIDH President

On 28 March 2017, the UN Human Rights Committee (CCPR) issued its Concluding Observations on Thailand following the review of the country’s second periodic report on 13-14 March 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland. The CCPR monitors state parties’ compliance with their legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In its Concluding Observations, the CCPR expressed concern and made recommendations on a wide range of issues related to civil and political rights.

“The UN’s fair and objective assessment of the civil and political rights situation in Thailand stands in stark contrast with the government’s empty rhetoric of its commitment to democracy and human rights. An immediate repeal of the junta’s abusive orders and policies and the return of democratic rights are the only ways the government can signal its commitment to its international human rights obligations.”

Jon Ungpakorn, iLaw Executive Director

Many of the CCPR’s concerns and recommendations echoed those made by FIDH, UCL, and iLaw in their joint report “Under siege - Violations of civil and political rights under Thailand’s military junta.” The report, released ahead of the CCPR review, documented how military rule has had a wide-ranging, negative impact on the country’s human rights situation since the 22 May 2014 coup d’état.

“The litany of concerns expressed by the UN shows that, in many respects, the human rights situation in Thailand has not improved since the country’s previous review 12 years ago. It’s time for Thailand to stop ignoring UN recommendations and take human rights reviews seriously.”

Jaturong Boonyarattanasoontorn, UCL Chairman

Within one year of the adoption of the Concluding Observations, Thailand will have to provide information on the implementation of the recommendations made by the CCPR concerning: 1) The constitution and the country’s legal framework; 2) Extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture; and 3) Conditions of detention.

Below is a summary of the CCPR’s concerns and recommendations on selected human rights issues.

Interim constitution, NCPO orders, and derogations from the ICCPR

The CCPR found that Articles 44, 47, and 48 of Thailand’s interim constitution limit access to effective remedies and “may lead to immunity” of the ruling military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), for serious human rights violations. The CCPR also stated that Article 44 had often been used to issue orders restricting rights under the covenant. The CCPR called for a review of all measures adopted under Articles 44, 47, and 48 of the interim constitution.

In addition, the CCPR regretted that derogations from Articles 12(1), 14(5), 19, and 21 of the ICCPR, issued by the Thai government as a result of the Declaration of Martial Law in May 2014, did not seem to comply with the rationale and the scope of the provisions established by Article 4 of ICCPR and the CCPR’s General Comment No. 29.

Death penalty

The CCPR said that Thai laws that punish with the death penalty crimes relating to corruption, bribery, and drugs are not in compliance with Article 6(2) of the ICCPR, which, in countries that retain the death penalty, allows the imposition of capital punishment only for the “most serious crimes”. The CCPR expressed concern over the large number of cases in which the death penalty has been imposed. The CCPR recommended Thailand ensure that the death penalty is limited to “the most serious crimes involving intentional acts of killing.” It also called on Thailand to consider abolishing the death penalty and acceding to the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.

Torture, extra-judicial killings, and enforced disappearances

The CCPR said it was “particularly concerned” about reports of torture and other ill-treatment, extra-judicial executions, and enforced disappearances against human rights defenders. The committee was also concerned over widespread impunity for those crimes and the slow progress in the investigations. The CCPR called on the government to ensure that impartial and thorough investigations are carried out into all allegations of torture, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings, and that perpetrators are prosecuted and, if convicted, punished with appropriate sanctions.

Arbitrary detention

The CCPR expressed its concern over reports of the arbitrary detention of hundreds of individuals for “attitude adjustments” for merely exercising their right to peaceful assembly and/or expression after the 2014 coup. Such individuals were reportedly often detained without charge, held incommunicado at undisclosed places of detention for periods of up to seven days, with no judicial oversight or safeguards against ill-treatment, and without access to a lawyer. The CCPR called for the immediate release all victims of arbitrary detention and for authorities to “provide them with full reparation.”

Right to a fair trial and military courts

The CCPR expressed its concern over reports that: 1) Hundreds of ongoing cases against civilians remain to be tried by military courts; 2) Civilians who were convicted by military courts did not enjoy the right of appeal; and 3) All guarantees of fair trial provided for by Article 14 of the ICCPR are not implemented during trials by military courts. The committee called for the transfer of trials for offenses committed prior to 12 September 2016 to civilian courts and for authorities to provide the opportunity for the appeal in civilian courts of cases involving civilians already tried by military tribunals.

Conditions of detention

The CCPR highlighted the high levels of overcrowding and poor conditions in many places of detention, including: poor sanitation and hygiene conditions; lack of access to healthcare; and lack of adequate food and water. It also expressed its concern over reports of the excessive use of restraining devices, such as shackles, and sexual harassment. The CCPR called on the government to ensure that conditions of detention in all of the country’s prisons are compatible with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules).

Freedom of expression and lèse-majesté

The CCPR underlined the severe and arbitrary restrictions imposed on the right to freedom of opinion and expression by Thailand’s legislation, including the Criminal Code, the 2007 Computer Crimes Act, and NCPO Order 3/2015. The committee said it was concerned about criminal proceedings, especially criminal defamation charges, brought against human rights defenders, activists, journalists, and other individuals, and about reports of the suppression of debate and campaigning, and criminal charges brought against individuals during the run-up to the 2016 constitutional referendum.

The CCPR recommended Thailand take all necessary measures in order to guarantee the enjoyment of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in all their forms. The committee also recommend Thailand consider decriminalizing defamation and, in any case, the application of criminal law only in the most serious of cases. The committee further recommended that Thailand refrain from using its criminal provisions, including the Computer Crimes Act and Article 116 of the Criminal Code (‘sedition’) to suppress the expression of critical and dissenting opinions.

With regard to the increase in the number of prosecutions under Article 112 of the Criminal Code (lèse-majesté), the CCPR expressed concern over the “extreme sentencing practices” for those found guilty of this offense. The CCPR recommended Thailand review Article 112 to bring it into line with Article 19 of the ICCPR and reiterated that the imprisonment of persons for exercising their freedom of expression violates this provision.

Freedom of peaceful assembly

The CCPR criticized the “excessive restrictions” imposed on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly since the 2014 military coup, including the “strict” ban on public gatherings of more than five people and political gatherings of more than four people, and the arrest of hundreds of people for organizing or participating in peaceful gatherings. The CCPR expressed concern over the provisions of the 2015 Public Assembly Act that established criminal penalties for failing to provide prior notification to authorities regarding the organization of peaceful assemblies.

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