The Thai junta’s decision not to bring new military trials of civilians is a limited step that appears intended to deflect international criticism of Thailand at the United Nations Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch said Monday.
The action by the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) is undercut by ongoing military trials of civilians and the military’s retention of expansive police powers.
“No one should be fooled by the Thai junta’s sleight of hand just before the Human Rights Council begins meeting in Geneva,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The decision will spare many Thai civilians the injustice of a military trial, but repressive military rule is still a reality in Thailand.”
On September 12, Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha revoked three NCPO orders that empowered military courts to try civilians for national security offenses, including sedition and lese majeste (insulting the monarchy). However, the action is not retroactive and does not affect the more than 1,000 cases already brought against civilians in military courts. The military also retains authority to arrest, detain, and interrogate civilians without safeguards against abuse or accountability for human rights violations.
Fundamental rights and freedoms that have been repressed since the May 2014 coup remain curtailed. Expression of dissenting opinions against the junta, peaceful opposition to military rule, criticism of the monarchy, and public assembly of more than five people are still criminal offenses. Since May 2014, at least 1,811 civilians have been brought before military courts across Thailand.
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly stated that Thailand, as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), is obligated to take measures to ensure and uphold basic fair trial rights. Governments are prohibited from using military courts to try civilians when civilian courts can still function. During the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Thailand in May 2016, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as many foreign governments and human rights groups, expressed concern that the rules governing Thailand’s military courts violate the basic fair trial rights protected under the ICCPR. In particular, many parties urged the Thai government to move all civilian cases out of military courts, drop cases that deal with restrictions of fundamental rights, and end the military’s unaccountable power to arrest, detain, and interrogate civilians.
“General Prayut should demonstrate that he is sincere about ending military trials of civilians by dropping all pending cases or transferring them to civilian courts,” Adams said. “This would be a long overdue and meaningful step toward ending repression, respecting basic rights, and returning the country to democratic civilian rule.”