In a move that raised eyebrows among human right advocates, the junta announced on 21 November, after three years in power, that human rights would be incorporated into the regime’s so-called Thailand 4.0 sustainable development initiative.
According to Lt Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd, spokesman of the Prime Minister’s Office, the government has set a two-year framework starting from 2018 to improve human rights on 10 points, including creating systems to document human rights violations, fostering a culture of human rights, and reducing the number of human rights violations.
Thai police arresring 16 activists for standing still to show solidarity with 10 persons abducted earlier by the military on 27 April 2016 (file photo)
While some might view the sudden pro-human rights rhetoric of the regime as a positive sign, those who are well informed about what happened after the 2014 coup d’état say that the reality is the opposite.
According to Sunai Phasuk, senior researcher of Human Rights Watch, the plan to prioritize human rights had been floating around the Ministry of Justice for a while and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) readily exploited it.
“It is just an attempt by the regime to improve its image,” said Sunai, adding that not many people will take seriously the effort of a military regime who seized power via a coup d’état.
Sunai Phasuk (file photo)
In the same way that Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta leader and Prime Minister, promised that a general election would be held in November 2018, part of the reason for this policy is perhaps to make the upcoming election seem genuine in the eyes of the international community, unlike the controversial public referendum for the 2017 Constitution.
In an interview with Voice TV, Pimsiri Petchnamrob, East Asia Programme Officer of FORUM-ASIA (Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development), echoed Sunai’s view, saying many countries scaled back relations with Thailand because of the lack of legitimacy of the regime and its poor human rights record. After Prayut’s state visit to the US, where he promised to hold an election next year, this plan is being announced to make the political environment prior to the election seem freer in the eyes of the international community.
Pimsiri told Voice TV that one issue that has repeatedly drawn criticism against the regime is trying civilians in military courts for alleged crimes against national security. Although the NCPO announced in September 2016 that this practice would end, many unfinished civilian cases are still proceeding in military courts.
Pimsiri Petchnamrob (Photo from Voice TV)
Pimsiri added that the organic law written by the junta-appointed Constitution Drafting Committee on the National Human Rights Commission also makes it difficult for the Commission to act independently as it requires the Commission to help the government in clarifying the human rights situation.
Sunai concluded that if the NCPO seriously wants to improve the human rights situation, the junta leader should on the same day have terminated Section 44 of the Interim Constitution, which gives him absolute power without having to bear any responsibility.
He added that the regime’s ban on political gatherings and orders restricting media freedom should also be lifted, but the regime has not done that.
“It is ironic that on the same day that the NCPO made an announcement about incorporating human rights into the national agenda, the junta leader threatened to use the Computer Crime Act against the media,” said Sunai.