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ICJ urges Thailand to transfer all civilians to civilian courts

29 Jan 2015 -- Three recent decisions by the Bangkok Military Tribunal affirming its jurisdiction over civilians violate international law and represent another serious setback for human rights in Thailand, the ICJ said.

“International standards are clear – military tribunals are not competent to prosecute civilians,” said Wilder Tayler, ICJ’s Secretary General. “Military tribunals are not independent from the executive and the lack of an appeal removes any possibility of a remedy against the judgments of the Tribunal.”

The first case concerns a political activist, Sirapop Korn-arut, who was charged with violating an order of Thailand’s ruling military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), to report to the military for allegedly violating Thailand’s highly restrictive lese majeste law. The second case concerns the prosecution of an anti-military coup activist, Sombath Boonngam-anong, accused of violating NCPO orders and instigating rebellion in June 2014. In the third, a Thammasat University law lecturer, Worajet Pakeerat, is charged with violating a NCPO summons to report to the military.

All three had challenged the jurisdiction of the Tribunal to prosecute civilians.

In three separate rulings, delivered on 22, 23 and 26 January 2015, the Tribunal rejected the defendants’ challenges to its jurisdiction.

“These decisions set a worrying precedent for all civilians currently facing prosecution before military tribunals in Thailand. All cases of civilians facing charges before military tribunals must be transferred to civilian courts immediately if Thailand is to comply with its international obligations,” said Tayler.

According to observers, at least 100 civilians have faced prosecution in military tribunals since the military coup. The Royal Thai Government has not yet released the official number.

While the ICJ observed Professor Worajet’s hearing on 26 January, written decisions have not yet been made publically available in these cases.

Background

Under Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party, everyone has the right to a “fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.”

The imposition of Martial Law and the State’s suspension of some of its obligations under the ICCPR, including the right to appeal guaranteed by Article 14(5) for cases heard by military tribunals, does not affect the applicability of this provision.

Article 61 of the Thai Act for the Organization of the Military Court prevents any appeal from the decision of military tribunals so long as Thailand remains under Martial Law, which has been in force nationwide since 22 May 2014.

The Principles Governing the Administration of Justice through Military Tribunals sets out principles that apply to state use of military tribunals.

Principle 5 states “Military courts should, in principle, have no jurisdiction to try civilians. In all circumstances, the State shall ensure that civilians accused of a criminal offence of any nature are tried by civilian courts.”

Further, Principle 2 clarifies that even in times of crisis military tribunals must “apply standards and procedures internationally recognized as guarantees of a fair trial.”

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