GENEVA (2 April 2015) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on Thursday expressed alarm at the Thai military Government’s announcement that it has invoked an article of the Interim Constitution that bestows unfettered authority on the head of the military government. The article grants sweeping law enforcement powers over the civilian population to military personnel, potentially overriding a wide range of human rights guaranteed under national and international law.
On Wednesday, the military Government of Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha was granted permission to revoke martial law, and replace it with extraordinary powers under article 44 of the Interim Constitution.
“Normally I would warmly welcome the lifting of martial law – and indeed strongly advocated for it to be lifted in Thailand,” the High Commissioner said. “But I am alarmed at the decision to replace martial law with something even more draconian, which bestows unlimited powers on the current Prime Minister without any judicial oversight at all. This clearly leaves the door wide open to serious violations of fundamental human rights. I appeal to the Government to ensure that these extraordinary powers, even if provided for by the Interim Constitution, will nevertheless not be exercised imprudently.”
Under an Order published by the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO) elaborating the application of article 44, military personnel down to the rank of Second Lieutenant may be appointed as “peace and order maintenance officers” with sweeping law enforcement powers, including to search, arrest and detain without judicial oversight. In addition, they will be empowered “to conduct any other action” as ordered by the NCPO.
Article 44 effectively allows the head of the NCPO, General Chan-ocha, to issue any legislative, executive or judicial order. Such orders, and any action based on them, would automatically be deemed legal, constitutional and conclusive. Even violations of human rights under international and existing national laws would be considered legal, and no avenues of accountability could be pursued. The peace and order maintenance officers are provided with immunity from criminal, civil, and disciplinary liabilities for any action they may take while acting under these extraordinary powers.
“The NCPO Order issued on Wednesday also annihilates freedom of expression,” Zeid said. “It explicitly gives these military peace and order maintenance officers the authority to prohibit ‘the reporting of news’ or sale or distribution of books, publications, or any other medium that ‘may create public fear or are intended to distort news and information to cause misunderstandings which could affect national security or public order.’ Freedom of assembly also remains severely curtailed, with heavy punishment earmarked for protesters who gather in groups of more than five.”
“In effect, this means the sweeping away of all checks and balances on the power of the Government, rendering the lifting of martial law meaningless,” Zeid said.
“I urge the Thai Government to comply with its obligations under international human rights law and promptly restore normal civilian rule of law, as it pledged to do after the coup in May last year,” Zeid said.