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Parliamentarians condemn rights violations on one-year anniversary of Thai coup

JAKARTA, 22 May 2015 – In the year since the Thai military staged a coup to overthrow the elected government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand has witnessed the entrenchment of authoritarianism and its new leaders have increasingly reneged on their international human rights obligations, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said today.
 
“This unelected military government has pursued policies that restrict fundamental freedoms and limit the space for political pluralism,” said APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of parliament in Malaysia. “Such an approach will not promote reconciliation. It will only deepen political polarization and further undermine the rule of law.”
 
The collective of parliamentarians called on Thai authorities to repeal all laws that violate international human rights norms, reinstate all human rights provisions in the previous constitution, and quickly return Thailand to an elected civilian government. APHR also demanded an end to trials of civilians in military courts, the investigation of allegations of torture, and the investigation of military involvement in forced evictions.
 
Parliamentarians also expressed concern over the relative silence of other regional governments on Thailand’s regression. They called on the broader international community to take a stronger stand against rights abuses by the Thai junta and to push harder for a return to democracy.
 
“The free pass the Thai military has received from the international community runs the risk of emboldening other governments in the region to pursue similar anti-democratic and human rights restricting policies,” Santiago said. “Regional and international leaders must press the Thai government to answer for the wide range of allegations of human rights violations levied against it.”
 
In the past year, the military has demonstrated few signs that it intends to prioritize the protection of basic human rights or return the country to democracy anytime soon, APHR said. It has banned political activity, instituted severe media censorship, detained protesters voicing any opposition, and made moves to consolidate and make permanent the military’s control over politics.
 
Allegations of torture of detainees while in military custody have been particularly concerning, APHR argued, as has the lack of progress in investigations into killings and disappearances of human rights defenders, including Chai Bunthonglek and Pholachi Rakchongcharoen (a.k.a. Billy).
 
The decision, announced this week, to further delay planned elections until August 2016 represents yet another concerning sign of the junta’s lack of commitment to transitioning back to democracy, APHR said.
 
“When the military took power last May, we were promised a speedy return to an elected civilian government,” said Santiago. “One year later, we are still waiting on the junta to fulfill its promise. And in the meantime, we have seen a complete erosion of basic rights protections.”
 
While the government revoked martial law in early April, APHR argued that its replacement—Article 44 of the interim constitution—is even more problematic. Article 44 gives National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) leader Prayuth Chan-ocha unilateral authority to pursue any policy and to override the other branches of government. In its order lifting martial law, the NCPO used Article 44 to maintain its prohibition on public gatherings, extend the ability of military courts to try civilians, and provide military officers with sweeping powers to detain individuals without charges.
 
“The invocation of Article 44 makes the decision to lift martial law essentially meaningless, ” said Walden Bello, a former congressman from the Philippines and current APHR board member. “It gives Prayuth ultimate power and sets an incredibly dangerous precedent, which goes against the rule of law and international norms of good governance.”
 
Since it took power one year ago, the NCPO has also displayed increasing contempt for dissenting voices, APHR warned. Statements by junta leaders have exhibited a lack of faith in the ability of public discussion and consultation to produce positive outcomes. The military has also worked actively to silence opposition voices through arbitrary arrests and detentions and the forced closure of select media outlets.
 
“What military leaders fail to realize is that dissenting voices strengthen the ability of government to safeguard human rights and act in the interest of the public,” Bello said. “To prioritize silencing those voices over preserving fundamental freedoms is not only shameful, it is counterproductive.”
 
Parliamentarians noted that the NCPO’s actions have gone against its international obligations, including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the ASEAN Charter, Article 1 of which states that among the 15 key purposes of the regional grouping is to “strengthen democracy, enhance good governance and the rule of law, and to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
 
“Thailand once served as a model for the region,” Santiago added. “It is sad to see how far it has fallen from this mantle. Within the span of one year, Thailand has moved rapidly toward a disturbingly permanent form of dictatorship that ignores the rights of the majority of its citizens.”

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