Scores of proposed bills threaten to compound dismantling of human rights protections in post-coup Thailand, including undermining the National Human Rights Commission and other institutions
JAKARTA -- Thailand’s military-appointed institutions have zero democratic legitimacy and should immediately desist from passing new laws and legislation, much of which has serious human rights implications, lawmakers from across Southeast Asia said today.
“The military-appointed, coup-installed legislature has no legitimacy to act on behalf of or in the interests of the people, particularly when it comes to talking about democratic principles and the rule of law,” said Charles Santiago, Malaysian MP and Chairperson of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).
As well as drafting a new Constitution, the NCPO, through the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), intends to pass literally scores of new laws, dozens of which have serious human rights implications which could see the suppression of basic rights enforced since the May 2014 coup signed into permanent law.
APHR is concerned about a raft of bills that have been tabled for enactment, including laws that limit rights to freedom of assembly, remove privacy laws and permit state spying on its civilians without a court order, as well as new mining laws that remove safeguards for local communities against negative social, economic and environmental impacts of extractive industries.
Civil society actors in Thailand are operating under an extremely difficult and oppressive system that has been installed by Gen Prayut Chan-ocha and his National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), APHR said. Nevertheless, many continue to defy threats and intimidation to make their voices heard in opposition to a raft of legislation that the military hopes to push through, without consultation, whilst holding the country’s democracy hostage.
“We see both progressive and regressive legislation passed in our parliaments all the time, and it can be very frustrating when the government of the day appears to go against the wishes of the people and contrary to international human rights law,” said Walden Bello, Philippines Congressman and Vice Chair of APHR.
“But even in flawed elections and flawed parliamentary systems, at least there is a semblance of checks and balances and of a mandate to rule and pass legislation. Reading the news and speaking to civil society in Thailand today is reminiscent of Myanmar in the 1990s: repression, arrests, military tribunals, and academics, political opponents and intellectuals being forced into exile.
“The current junta in power in Thailand has zero democratic legitimacy and must immediately return power to the people and let their elected representatives assume their rightful seats in Parliament,” Bello added.
On top of this, the junta’s hand-picked cabal is penning yet another Constitution, which APHR understands will go even further into dismantling the systems of checks and balances in Thailand and cement power in the hands of unelected bodies.
National Human Rights Commission under threat
APHR is deeply concerned about plans to undermine the independence, efficiency and authority of Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) by combining it with the Ombudsman. Such a move, as announced by the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) last week, would appear to have no purpose other than to weaken the NHRC’s powers to seek justice on behalf of those whose human rights have been violated. It also notable and regrettable that the decision was made without any apparent consultation of civil society or human rights defenders in Thailand.
Bawornsak Uwanno, head of the CDC announced on 30 January that the committee had agreed on a plan to merge the NHRC and the Office of the Ombudsman of Thailand (OOT) into one organization under the name of the Office of the Ombudsman and Human Rights Protection.
Bawornsak claimed the two state agencies have similar functions and that the merger was intended to increase the efficiency of the two to provide human rights protections. However, according to reports, as well as other major flaws in the plan, the selection process for commissioners will be further restricted, and carried out in a closed process by the Thai Senate.
Thailand’s NHRC is already in a weakened state, with only one of its current commissioners really working to the full mandate of their position, and needs to be strengthened not undermined further, APHR said.
The Commission was recently targeted for downgrading in a December 2014 report by the International Coordinating Committee (ICC) of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights for persistent deficiencies in the selection process of its members, as identified above, and other failures to meet the requirements of the “Paris Principles”, a set of international standards which frame and guide the work of National Human Rights Institutions.
The ICC also registered concerns over the NHRC’s failure to react in a timely manner to serious allegations of human rights violations, particularly in relation to large-scale political protests in 2010 and 2013-14.
In light of the well-documented surge in human rights violations in Thailand since the military coup, APHR reiterates its call for ASEAN to step up and take a stand against Thailand’s military junta, calling on Thailand to immediately withdraw martial law provisions and restore the 2007 Constitution, thereby paving the way for free and fair elections.
“It isn’t just plans to dismantle the NHRC and pass new legislation that has us all concerned across the region; it’s the whole process taking place in Thailand today, the complete and total repression of basic freedoms and rights, which include throwing political opponents and intellectuals before military tribunals. Thailand’s generals must immediately reopen space for political debate and end the draconian suppression of all dissent,” said Mr. Santiago.
“The failure of ASEAN and our regional government’s to stand up against such blatant disregard for human rights means that there appears to be no safety net in our region against human rights violations at all. If we don’t stand up for democracy and human rights in Thailand today, who will stand up for our rights when the are taken away from us?”