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Martial law and the military court: civil and political rights in Thailand

Martial Law and the Military Court: Civil and Political Rights in Thailand (22 May 2014-15 January 2015)
On 2nd Febuary 2015, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) launched a new report, "Martial Law and the Military Court: Civil and Political Rights in Thailand (22 May 2014-15 January 2015)." Following the 22 May 2014 coup, the jurisdiction of the military court system has been extended to civilian cases. Military court procedure results in the denial of the right to a fair trial, which then results in unfair hearings and decisions. This is inconsistent with international law.  TLHR urges the authorities to revoke martial law and cease processing civilians in military courts. 
The report points out that the use of martial law and the military court system constitutes a breach of international law and is aimed at stifling and infringing on many basic rights of the people. This has resulted in the following significant impacts:
  1. The processing of civilian cases in the military court system affects the people in general, not only those directly involved as defendants.
  2. Martial law is present from the beginning of the judicial process. Military officials arrest civilians under martial law and then rely on evidence obtained from them while in custody in order to press charges against them. At the conclusion of the period of detention under martial law, the authorities then request that the court permit further detention on the basis of this evidence. Martial law provides the military and police with an opportunity to gather evidence before a suspect has appeared before a judge. 
  3. The military court system has its own procedure that differs from the civilian courts of justice. The military judges lack independence and legal expertise. No public defenders are provided to defendants. Note-taking is banned in the court room. Many cases have been conducted in secret. Military courts, particularly in the provinces, are inaccessible to the people.  
  4. Military courts rarely grant requests for temporary release; they cite the political nature of cases as the reason for the denial. This has a severe impact on the accused persons, particularly those with health problems who need constant medical attention.  
  5. The military court during abnormal times, which is when martial law has been declared, is a single-tired system in which no appeal is possible. Based on cases which have already been adjudicated, TLHR observes that the military courts tend to impose much harsher sanctions than civilian courts. This forces civilian defendants to choose to plead guilty to the charges rather than to fight them. In addition, no effort is made to explore the background of the accused persons, which should be examined for the possible reduction of sentences. Concern about the harsh and unjust practices of the military courts has pressured people to flee and live in exile.
The assessment of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) is that protection of the right to a fair trial is key to ensuring justice. If the military judges and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) intend to dismiss the principle, it indicates that the judges are willing to adjudicate based on unjust, rather than just, laws.  
To ensure the right to a fair trial and to protect the peoples’ rights in the judicial process, especially access to justice, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) makes the following recommendations:
  1. Make information about cases of civilians processed in the military court system publicly available and accessible to ordinary citizens.
  2. Cease the apprehension, arrest and detention of individuals under martial law. This creates a benefit for officials engaged in the criminal prosecution of civilians, but also creates opportunities for the violation of the right to life and security of civilians and makes them unable to access a fair and just judicial process.
  3. Courts and judicial officials should interpret the law in line with the principles of the protection of the rights of the accused and should hold firm to the right to bail. The denial of temporary release should be exceptional.
  4. Revoke the announcements of the National Council for Peace and Order that place civilians in military courts and return them to ordinary civilian courts.
  5. Revoke the announcements of the National Council for Peace and Order that stipulate that some actions carry a criminal punishment, in particular participation in political demonstrations and not reporting following a summons by the NCPO.
  6. Revoke martial law immediately.  



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