[The weekly commentary and analysis of the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) on human rights and governance issues]

Embargoed for: 20 September2006
Review: 133/06

Thailand's coup d'etat:
Time for interventions by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, UNGA and UNHRC

As we upload this issue of ACHR REVIEW, it has increasingly become clear that Thailand's military headed by General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the first Muslim army commander-in-chief in overwhelmingly Buddhist Thailand, have taken full control of the country in a bloodless coup on 19 September 2006. About a year ago, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin was appointed as the commander-in-chief apparently to appease the Muslim minorities in Southern Thailand which has been facing insurgency since January 2004.

General Sonthi: Architect of the coup

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is attending the 61st session of the UN General Assembly, sought to bring the situation under control by declaring State of Emergency through an address in channel 9 TV. The address was taken off the air before Prime Minister Shinawatra could complete it. His two other orders, transferring General Sonthi from the post of army chief to the PM's Office, and naming General Rungroj Mahasaranond as the officer in charge to deal with the crisis went unheeded.

The military regime immediately took many repressive measures. The Head of the Mass Communications Organisation of Thailand Mingkwan Saengsuwan was arrested by the military for broadcasting Prime Minister Thaksin's address. Many Cabinet members and others deemed hostile by the military such as Deputy Prime Minister Chidchai Vanasatidya and Supreme Commander Ruengroj Mahasaranont, Defence Minister General Thammarak Isarangkun and the pro-Thaksin television host Dusit Siriwan have been taken into custody.

Foreign news channels, including CNN and the BBC, were taken off the air. There is no news in Thai televisions and news has been replaced with only songs praising Thai King. Soldiers seized the Shinawatra Building, iTV television station and Thaksin's residence.

General Sonthi Boonyaratglin announced formation of the “Administrative Reform Council" (ARC) to run the country. In its third order, the ARC suspended the 1997 "people's constitution", dissolved both houses of parliament, the government and the constitution court. The announcements stated that the Council was under the King, and confirmed that the Privy Council and all courts except the Constitution Court remained in power. The ARC appointed chiefs of first, second, third and fourth army regions to be "Peace Keeping Directors" of their areas and with the powers to command civil servants. The order instructed provincial governors and other heads of government agencies as well as rectors of universities in each army area to report themselves to the army area commander.

The same old justification:

The ARC justified the coup for the “social division” like never before, widespread reported corruption, failure to deliver services by the state units and independent organisations as specified in the Constitution and "lese majeste" actions against the revered King.  The military stated that it had “no intention to rule but to return the power to the people as soon as possible, to preserve peace and honour the King who is the most revered to all Thais.”

In a country that has witnessed 18 coups since it became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, the story is nothing new. About 15 years back on 23 February 1991, a group of generals, including General Suchinda Kraypayoon, overthrew a democratically elected government and formed a National Peace-Keeping Council (NPKC).

There is uncanny similarities between the coups in February 1991 and September 2006. General Suchinda formed National Peace-Keeping Council. The ARC appointed the Regional Military Commanders as “Peace Keeping Directors”. It is another matter that in neighbouring Myanmar, the military junta is known as State Peace and Development Council.

General Suchinda Kraypayoon promised to hold elections in six months. General Sonthi too promised to return power to the people although the elections are slated fo November 2006.

Suchinda himself promised he would not accept the post of Prime Minister and give rights to the people. Instead, the NKPC restricted human rights and fundamental freedoms, hounded political opponents like Professor Sulak Sivaraksa, under the charges of lese majeste and sought to rewrite sections of the constitution to give itself a permanent power base.

General Suchinda went to become the Prime Minister under dubious circumstances and his rule came to an end in a pro-democracy uprising in Bangkok between 17 and 20 May 1992. According to official report, at least 44 persons were killed, several hundred were injured and more than 100 remain unaccounted for after army opened fired on the peaceful demonstrators.

Former Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai commenting on the latest coup stated, “As politicians, we do not support any kind of coup, but during the past five years, the government of Thaksin created several conditions that forced the military to stage the coup. Thaksin has caused the crisis in the country."

While Thaksin is no saint and responsible for major political crisis in Thailand, the coup de tat is not the solution. Successive democratic governments since 1992 including that of Chuan Leekpai failed to establish accountability for the atrocities perpetrated during the 1992 Bangkok uprising. Some senior military officers involved in the May 1992 events were even promoted. In June 1999, the government made the summary of the original 600-page report containing a 114-page appendix public but failed to fix individual responsibility for the massacre and blamed only the poor quality of military intelligence and the mishandling of protesters by the riot police. This absolute lack of accountability encourages the coups in Thailand.

Coup d'etat: A threat to democracy all over the world

The latest coup d'etat in Thailand is a threat to democracy all over the world. If the coup d'etat is justified in Thailand, it can also be justified in a situation of political flux such as in Mexico.  The nascent democratic countries in South East Asia have been prone to coups. The recent attempted coup in the Philippines is an example.

Time and again, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej intervened to remind Prime Minister Shinawatra to be democratic and tolerant. When monarchies across the world were being pilloried because of the role of such as the Kings such as Gyanendra of Nepal, King Bhumibol Adulyadej has symbolized the epitome of Monarchy for Democracy. 

His Majesty the King granted an audience to the Administrative Reform Council Army Commander-in-Chief Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin, head of the council, Navy Commander-in-Chief Adm Sathiraphan Keyanon, Air Force Commander-in-Chief ACM Chalit Pukphasuk and Supreme Commander Gen Ruangroj Mahasalanon at midnight on 19 September 2006.

The coup d'etat and subsequent measures taken by the military including suspension of the 1997 "people's constitution", dissolution of both houses of parliament, the government and the constitution court and detention of political leaders are illegal. His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, United Nations and ASEAN countries must immediately intervene not to recognise the military regime, restore civilian authority and avoid future bloodbaths.

Asian Centre for Human Rights makes the following recommendations:

To His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej:

•  Issue a public statement to ensure that the audience granted is not mis-construed as supporting the military junta;

•  Declare the suspension of the 1997 "people's constitution", dissolution of both houses of parliament, the government and the constitution court as illegal;

•  Order the release Deputy Prime Minister Chidchai Vanasatidya and Supreme Commander Ruengroj Mahasaranont, Defence Minister General Thammarak Isarangkun and the pro-Thaksin television host Dusit Siriwan from detention;

•  Order restoration of freedom of the press including access to foreign news channels.

To the 61st session of the United Nations General Assembly and UN Human Rights Council:

•  Invite Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to address the august bodies to send a clear message that the United Nations only recognizes civilian authorities in Thailand;

•  Hold "Special Debate on the situation in Thailand" and adopt appropriate resolutions for the restoration of democracy, press freedom and release of all the detainees in Thailand.

To the United States, European Union, ASEAN and other democratic countries:

•  Make official statements not to recognize the coup d'etat;

•  Impose sanctions against the military dictators including a visa ban and a freeze on assets of the members of the ARC and other senior members of the Thai Army;

•  Impose a ban on technical assistance, on financing and financial assistance related to military activities by the Thai military until the civilian authorities are restored.

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