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

Embargoed for: 27 September2006
Review: 134/06

Amnesia on Thai military junta 

By – Suhas Chakma, Director of ACHR at the HRC, Geneva


"We are not the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister is not our boss," - General Winai Phattiyakul, Secretary of the Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy (CDRM) formed by the Thai military junta after the coup d'etat on 19 September 2006 while spelling out the way Thailand will be ruled. [1]

The ongoing second session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva reflects the amnesia on the coup d'etat in Thailand. Though international media has been covering the coup d'etat in Thailand, neither the governments nor the NGOs have found it important enough to make interventions. Only the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement following the request of the Asian Centre for Human Rights. It is as if the coup d'etat is a justified intervention against alleged abuse of power by deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. At the UN Human Rights Council, principles and morality no longer sell. The UN Human Rights Council has been failed.

As we upload this issue of ACHR WEEKLY REVIEW today, the United Nations Human Rights Council started the debate on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Sergio Pinheiro has already presented his report. The deterioration of the situations had forced the UN Security Council on 16 September 2006 to put Myanmar on its agenda. The UNHRC could have once again put increased international spotlight on the State Peace and Development Council of Myanmar. However, the September 19th coup d'etat in Thailand has come as music to the ears of the Myanmarese military junta.

The coup d'etat in Thailand must be addressed to deal with the problems of dictatorship and strengthening democratization across the world. While Human Rights Council has failed to address the coup d'etat in Thailand, those who espouse democracy and human rights must address the coup d'etat in no uncertain terms.

In this context, the intentions of the military junta must be examined carefully.

I. Timing of the coup d'etat and intention of the military Junta

Undoubtedly, Thaksin Shinawatra's rule in Thailand has become untenable because of the increasing inability to make distinction between his family business interests and the interests of the State and the Thai Rak Thai Party. This forced Thaksin to hold discredited elections in April 2006 which were held invalid. New elections were slated for November 2006.

Since elections were slated for November 2006, what was the unnecessary hurry to make a military intervention unless the military had the intention to rule the country by taking advantage of alleged abuse of majority in parliament by Thaksin Shinawatra.

II. Seeking legitimacy through a proxy

Was the intervention of the military primarily because of the speculation that Thaksin would have won the November 2006 elections as suggested by many?

The declaration that for one year, the military junta will not hand over power to the people indicate that intervention was made to establish military rule than mere prevention of Thaksin coming to power. General Winai stated that the CDRM would transform itself into the Council for National Security (CNS) to assist the government which could be read as its intention to rule the country. They military only needs a proxy to gain legitimacy.

III. Excuse for extended rule: Drafting a Constitution

If the military junta were interested to return power to the people, there was no need for the suspension of the 1997 Constitution, the best one Thailand ever had. The 1997 Constitution could have been considered as the interim constitution. Most importantly, those provisions of the 1997 Constitution which Thaksin Shinawatra has allegedly abused could have been amended. Instead, the military junta scrapped the entire constitution and has been suggesting a new constitution to prolong its rule.

Was the best constitution of Thailand to date is so bad that it needed to be scrapped altogether? Or is it another excuse to rule the country.

The process suggested by the CDRM to draft a new constitution is not democratic by any yardstick. The CDRM suggested that the CNS would form an interim legislature made up of 250 people and a people's assembly composed of 2,000 members from all walks of life. These assembly members would then handpick from among themselves 100-200 constitution drafters. Therefore, the Thai junta will handpick the people who will draft the constitution. If the junta is not satisfied, it can still veto. After all, the draft constitution to be prepared in six months will still require the approval of the CNS and the interim government for holding referendum by the Election Commission.

The junta is seeking to “guide democracy” in Thailand.

IV. Continued rights violations: The real face of the junta

There have been serious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the military junta.

a. Violations of the right to freedom of association and assembly

Since 21 September 2006, formation of new political parties has been banned in clear violations of the Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  The assembly of more than five persons and political party meetings have also been banned in violation of the Article 21 of the ICCPR.

b. Violations of the right to freedom of expression

The freedom of expression and opinion is under serious threat. Among others, 300 community radio stations in six Northern provinces, including the cities of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai have been reportedly closed down. In addition, the Administrative Reform Council had summoned the editors of a number of television stations and newspapers, and asked them not to broadcast or publicise the opinions from the public sent in by text message.  The websites were asked to screen comments. Foreign television feeds, including the BBC and CNN, are severely restricted.

The ban on community radio stations are exactly similar to the ban imposed by King Gyanendra in Nepal following the Royal take over on 1 February 2006. ACHR wonders as to why Thailand is not drawing adequate international condemnation like Nepal.

c. Arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention without being produced before any court of law

A number of political leaders allegedly close to the deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and those who have been exercising the right to freedom of association and assembly have been put under arrest without being produced before the court of law. On 20 September 2006, a group of democracy activists led by former Member of Parliament (MP) Chalard Vorachat were arrested from Democracy Monument in Bangkok for defying the military coup. Another former MP, Thawee Kraikupt who joined the peaceful protest was also arrested.

On 21 September 2006, former natural resources and environment minister Yongyuth Tiyapairat, and former Prime Minister's Office Minister Newin Chidchob were detained. In addition, Chitchai Wannasathit, former Deputy Prime Minister and senior aide Prommin Lertsuridej have also been taken into custody.

These political leaders have been detained without any order from the courts. Nor have they been produced before any court of law. They are also being held incommunicado.

V. Between the lines: The opinion of His Majesty on the junta

Within a week, the military junta has changed its name thrice. First, it named itself as “Administrative Reform Council”.

Second, in order to give itself the tag of democrats and approval of His Majesty King, it soon renamed itself as “Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy” (CDRM).

On 26 September 2006, the junta once again renamed itself as “the Council for Democratic Reform, or CDR” and removed “under Constitutional Monarchy” on the pretext of “misunderstanding and false interpretation in some countries and for some foreign media on the role of the monarchy”.

The latest renaming has three connotations. First, the coup d'etat does not have the approval of the His Majesty. Second, the junta is seeking to undermine His Majesty. Third, His Majesty wants to dissociate from the measures being taken by the junta.

The CDR has been desperate for a credible, respectable and acceptable Interim Prime Minister such as Supachai Panitchpakdi, the Secretary-general of the UN Conference on Trade and Development to provide legitimacy to the junta. The military has failed all over the world and there are no empirical and historical studies to suggest that it will be different in Thailand.

VI: Military junta vs terrorist groups: Addressing threats to democracy

About a week has passed but there is no sign that the military junta will loosen the restrictions on the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The military junta continues to act as judge and jury.

Asian Centre for Human Rights welcomes the statement of the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of Thailand. However, the OHCHR must monitor the situation continuously.

The military juntas across the world pose more serious threat threat to democracy, the rule of law and human rights and fundamnetal freedoms than the armed opposition groups or what the governments call “terrorist groups”. Therefore, the coup d'etat in Thailand must be addressed. Otherwise, initiatives by the Security Council on Mynmar may fall flat.

International community especially European Union, United States and ASEAN countries must not accept the coup d'etat as a fait accompli and therefore, recognise the CDR. The CRD must not be recognised and be urged to hand over power as soon as possible, certainly not one year; and hold elections for the constituent assembly to draft a constitution. Until then the rule of law as guaranteed under the 1997 Constitution must be upheld.


[1] . Council to 'assist' the interim govt, The Bangkok Post, 26 September 2006, http://www.bangkokpost.com/News/26Sep2006_news03.php

 

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