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Thailand: Government deceives international community at UN human rights review

Paris, Bangkok, 18 May 2016: The Thai government deceived the international community with regard to the real human rights situation in the country during the UN-backed Universal Periodic Review (UPR), held in Geneva, Switzerland, on 11 May 2016, FIDH, its member organization Union for Civil Liberty (UCL), and its partner organization Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw) said today.

“The Thai government’s attempts to sweep human rights violations under the carpet were in full display in Geneva. Despite the government delegation’s omissions, blanket denials, and reality-defying statements, a significant number of states are now aware of Thailand’s troubling human rights situation,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

During the review, Thailand received 249 recommendations from 97 UN member states. The Thai government accepted 181 recommendations and said it would examine and provide a response to the remaining 68 by the 33rd session of the UN Human Rights Council, to be held in September 2016.

The government delegation announced that Thailand would take “a realistic approach” to the UPR and would accept recommendations that corresponded with the authorities’ capacity to implement them.

“Accepting most recommendations related to civil and political rights does not require any capacity on the government’s part. In order to implement many of those recommendations, the military junta simply needs to return the civil and political rights taken away from the people after the 2014 coup. These rights are guaranteed by international legal instruments that Thailand has ratified,” said iLaw Executive Director Jon Ungpakorn.

In sharp contrast with the obliteration of all democratic principles and the substantial deterioration of the human rights situation since the 22 May 2014 military coup, the head of the government delegation declared that Thailand’s commitment to democracy, rule of law, and human rights was “as strong as ever.”

The government delegation justified limitations imposed on the enjoyment of civil and political rights, including the right to freedom of opinion and expression, with the need to “prevent further social divisiveness and political conflicts.” The statement underscored the government’s disregard for international human rights standards, which only allow for restrictions on rights guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in exceptional cases, and under the strict test of necessity and proportionality.

Finally, the government delegation claimed that General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the head of the ruling military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), had used Article 44 of the interim constitution “in a limited manner.”[1] This statement contradicts the fact that Prayuth has invoked Article 44 to confer on himself sweeping powers without any accountability 70 times between 25 December 2014 and 4 May 2016.

“The gap between the Thai government’s words and its actions is as wide as ever. If it is serious about being committed to democracy, rule of law, and human rights, the military-backed government should immediately end all abusive practices and restrictions that are incompatible with Thailand’s existing obligations under international law,” said UCL Chairman Jaturong Boonyarattanasoontorn.

FIDH, UCL, and iLaw urge the Thai government to take immediate steps to implement recommendations it has already accepted and to accept and implement recommendations that are under its consideration.

Below is an analysis of the recommendations received by Thailand and the Thai government’s response with regard to selected key human rights issues.

Arbitrary detentions

Thailand failed to accept all five recommendations that called for an end to arbitrary detentions, the abusive practice of ‘attitude adjustment’ sessions, and the use of military facilities as detention centers for civilians. Neither the government report for the UPR nor the members of the government delegation addressed the issue.

Freedom of opinion and expression

Thailand received 26 recommendations concerning the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The government acted in an inconsistent manner by accepting only 11 of the 26 recommendations that called on the authorities to respect freedom of expression.

Seven of the 15 recommendations that the government did not immediately accept called for the repeal or amendment of Article 112 of the Criminal Code (lèse-majesté) and for an end of its abuse to limit freedom of expression. An additional recommendation called for the abolition of mandatory minimum jail sentences under Article 112. With regard to lèse-majesté prosecutions, the government delegation claimed that legal proceedings stemming from charges under Article 112 were conducted “in accordance with due legal process” despite compelling evidence to the contrary.

Military trials of civilians

Thailand received 12 recommendations that called for an end of military trials of civilians. In response, the government delegation declared that the use of military courts to try civilians following the imposition of martial law on 20 May 2014 had been “limited.” This statement contradicts the fact that a staggering 1,629 individuals were on trial before military courts from 22 May 2014 to 30 September 2015. The delegation also outrageously claimed the defendants before military tribunals were “subject to the same set of rights as those who appear before the civilian courts” and that the right to fair and public hearing by independent tribunal was “guaranteed.” These assertions belie the fact that military trials of civilians have violated Thailand’s fair trial obligations under Article 14 of the ICCPR.[2] In military courts, judges lack independence from the executive branch, many defendants had no right to appeal, and proceedings, particularly relating to lèse-majesté prosecutions, have often been held behind closed-doors.

Death penalty

Thirty-two states made 17 recommendations to Thailand concerning the death penalty. The government accepted a recommendation to review the imposition of the death penalty for drug-related offenses and agreed to take steps towards abolishing capital punishment. However, the government failed to immediately accept 13 recommendations that either called for the abolition of the death penalty or encompassed measures aimed at making progress towards that goal, including the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR and the establishment of a moratorium on all executions.

Constitutional referendum

The government accepted a recommendation that called on the authorities to encourage public debate on the draft constitution. However, it failed to accept another recommendation that called for the lifting of the Referendum Law’s restrictions on the exercise of fundamental freedoms to allow people’s participation in the political reform process.

The Referendum Law, which came into effect on 23 April 2016, imposes undue restrictions on the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to peaceful assembly in the lead-up to the 7 August constitutional referendum. In addition, violators could face up to 10 years in prison.[3] Under this law, on 27 April 2016, authorities in Khon Kaen arrested a woman over a Facebook post that criticized the draft constitution.

Human rights defenders

Thailand accepted all four recommendations it received concerning the protection of human right defenders and the government's obligation to adequately investigate all attacks perpetrated against them. In addition, the government delegation stated that authorities were aware of their duty to ensure that human rights defenders and lawyers could carry out their work “in a safe and enabling environment.”

The government’s official position is inconsistent with the authorities’ increasing harassment of lawyers and human rights defenders since the May 2014 military coup.[4] In addition, no one has been held accountable for the numerous cases of killings and enforced disappearances of human rights defenders since Thailand’s first UPR in October 2011.


[1] Article 44 of Thailand’s interim constitution grants NCPO head General Prayuth Chan-ocha absolute power to issue any decrees deemed necessary for “the benefit of reform in any field and to strengthen public unity and harmony, or for the prevention, disruption or suppression of any act which undermines public peace and order or national security, the Monarchy, national economics or administration of State affairs.” Article 47 of the interim constitution declares that all such orders are “deemed to be legal, constitutional and conclusive.”

[2] Article 14(1) of the ICCPR states that “everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal.”

[3] Article 61 of the Referendum Law prescribes a prison term of up to 10 years, a fine of up to 200,000 baht, and loss of electoral rights for five years for “anyone who publishes or distributes content about the draft constitution which deviates from the facts, contains rude and violent language, or threateningly discourages voters from participating in the referendum.

[4] See Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Urgent Appeals: THA 004 / 1115 / OBS 092; THA 001 / 0116 / OBS 008.1; THA 002 / 0316 / OBS 029; THA 001 / 0715 / OBS 055.5; THA 003 / 0714 / OBS 065; THA 001 / 0315 / OBS 017; THA 002 / 0715 / OBS 055; THA 002 / 0715 / OBS 055.2

The International Federation for Human Rights, known by its French acronym FIDH, is an international human rights NGO representing 178 organizations from close to 120 countries. Since 1922, FIDH has been defending all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights as set out in the Universal Declaration for Human Rights.




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