The Thai junta’s Order today phasing out the prosecution of civilians in military courts is a welcome step but the military government must do much more to comply with its international human rights obligations, said the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) today.
Head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) Order 55/2016, dated 12 September 2016 and issued under Article 44 of the Interim Constitution, phases out the heavily criticized practice of prosecuting civilians before military courts for four categories of offences, including offences against internal security; violation of NCPO orders; possession and use of war weapons; and the highly punitive offence of lese majeste. The Order only applies to offences committed from the date the Order comes into force - today - and not to past or pending cases.
Since the May 2014 coup, at least 1,811 civilians have been tried in Military Courts, based on information the Judge Advocate General’s Department (JAG) provided to Thai Lawyers For Human Rights (TLHR) in July 2016 and covering the period 22 May 2014 to 31 May 2016.
“Almost 2,000 civilians have faced an unjust process and unfair trials before military tribunals, many of whom were prosecuted simply for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly,” said Sam Zarifi, Asia Director at the ICJ. “All pending cases should be transferred to civilian courts and the convictions of all civilians prosecuted in military courts since the 2014 coup should be set aside.”
Head of the NCPO Order 55/2016 also explicitly affirms that the deeply problematic Head of the NCPO Orders 3/2015 (which replaced nationwide Martial Law on 1 April 2015) and 13/2016 shall remain in force. These Orders prohibit the gathering of more than five people for political purposes; allow for the detention of civilians in military facilities for up to seven days without charge; and provide appointed “Prevention and Suppression Officers” and their assistants, drawn from the commissioned ranks of the Armed Forces, including the paramilitary Ranger Volunteers, with wide-ranging powers to prevent and suppress 27 categories of crimes including against public peace, liberty and reputation, immigration, human trafficking, narcotics, and weapons. The ICJ considers that these orders are not in accordance with Thailand’s international human rights obligations
“Its now crucial for the military to return responsibility for law enforcement to civilian authorities, and ensure they are properly trained and competent,” Zarifi said. “We hope today’s Order is a step toward returning Thailand to the rule of law and respect for human rights.
Clause 3 of Head of the NCPO Order 55/2016 notes “As appropriate, the Prime Minister may propose to the National Council for Peace and Order to amend this Order.”
Previously, NCPO Announcements 37/2014, 38/2014 and 50/2014 extended the jurisdiction of Thailand’s military courts to four categories of offences, including offences against internal security, violation of NCPO orders, possession and use of war weapons, and lese majeste.
The prosecution of civilians in military courts is inconsistent with Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) - to which Thailand is a State Party - which affirms that everyone has the right to a “fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.”
The Principles Governing the Administration of Justice through Military Tribunals sets out principles that apply to state use of military tribunals. Principle 5 states “Military courts should, in principle, have no jurisdiction to try civilians. In all circumstances, the State shall ensure that civilians accused of a criminal offence of any nature are tried by civilian courts.”