People’s Network of 5 Regions submits a letter to demand the government to revoke the Emergency Decree as it allows for blanket use of powers without required check and balance, causing worries about abuse of power unrelated to the Covid-19 pandemic control. The People’s Movement for Just Society (P-Move), one of the Networks, says the urban poor have been severely affected, and are able to survive only on citizens’ donations rather than government support. Human Rights lawyers state that the Communicable Disease Act and Public Health laws are sufficient to control the pandemic, and that there is no need for the Emergency Decree. Actions by State Authorities using the Emergency Decree is worrying as it cannot be held accountable, even by the Administrative Court.
The People’s Network of 5 regions on Tuesday submits the letter at the government house to call on the government to stop the extension of the Emergency Decree for another month to control the COVID19 pandemic. The letter states that since the number of the newly infected case has significantly reduced and is almost zero now, the situation cannot be considered an Emergency anymore that requires the Emergency Degree. The government and related agencies can use other existing laws to control the situation such as the Communicable Disease Act, which already provides for comprehensive power to control pandemic. This law, together with strong public health measures and collaboration with the people, should be sufficient to control the situation. Furthermore, there are also other laws that can be used like the Immigration Act, Thailand Air Navigation Act, Commodities Hoarding Survey Act; and the Price of Goods and Services Act. Therefore, there is no need to use or extend the Emergency Decree.
The letter also states that the Emergency Decree is the law that severely restricts people’s rights and freedoms. The power under the Decree is too vague, and can be abused .What is happening in many communities now shows that the government, authorities and the security agencies are exploiting powers under Emergency Decree to restrict the people’s rights and freedom.
“The use of Emergency Decree also affects the people’s income and livelihood especially that of the working people. The big corporations are still pushing through with development projects seeking out natural resources amidst the people’s suffering. This phenomenon shows the stance adopted by the government ignores the situation of inequality in this country,” the letter states.
The Urban Poor Severely Affected, Only Surviving from People’s Donations, None from Government
Chamnong Noophan, the President of the People’s Movement for Just Society (P-Move), the nationwide network of community-based rights groups, and one of the representatives submitting the letter, said that the Emergency Decree should not be extended as the people has been collaborating with the government policies as they wanted to return to normal lives. The daily new cases now have been close to zero.
Chamnong also said that the urban poor, who have already been affected badly economically even before COVID19, are only surviving on people’s donations. He said that the 5,000-baht aid scheme is inaccessible to the urban poor as they do not have mobile phones. After the government opens for appeal on the scheme from 16-29 May, it will still remain inaccessible especially for those who return home to places like Phuket and three southernmost provinces as they would be quarantine for 14 days, and by the time they could go the bank, the deadline for appeal would have past. It remains to be seen if the government would provide another extension for appeals.
Chamnong said that the extension of Emergency Decree seems to have hidden political agenda, and it may not be about pandemic control. It is obvious that the people receive no support from the government on health measures. They people now have to do their own screening and care for each other by themselves. Earlier, the government had sent only 1 mask to use per family, which consists usually of about five people. When this was criticized, they sent us 10 masks. There is no standard of operations on the pandemic measures, he said.
“Everyone is worried about the second wave of the pandemic, of course. That’s why, everyone is careful and vigilant, and this shows that together we can control it. I wonder why we still need the Emergency Decree because people are starving to death. If they want to see how it feels, then the government should stop paying their employees for 3 months and let’s see if anyone will survive.
“I insist that the Emergency Decree should be revoked. Other laws such as the Communicable Disease Act is already sufficient. Everyone is afraid of COVID19 but they are also afraid of starving,” he said.
Human rights lawyer: The Government’s Behavior Is Not To Control The Pandemic But To Curb The Rights Of People
Sor Rattanamanee Polkla, lawyer and the coordinator of the Community Resource Center, who also joins the Network in submitting the letter, said that while the pandemic situation has improved, the peoples’ situation has not. During the pandemic, there are development projects still proceeding that will affect the communities and people’s livelihoods. For example, the public hearing organized by the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SPBAC) on the industrial zone in Chana District, Songkhla Province. They originally planned to go ahead with it in May despite the Emergency Decree is in place. It’s ironic that it was the State agencies’ idea to do it.
“At the same time, the locals could not come out and protest. They can only go to submit the letter, which sometimes doesn’t capture the peoples’ power who are demanding for changes. The case of project in Chana is now cancelled due to a girl who was staging a sit-in protest in front of the Provincial Hall all night. The SPBAC postponed the hearing citing the Emergency Decree and the pandemic, but earlier they were the one who organized it,” said Sor Rattanamanee.
She also said that when community human rights defenders came out to do local activities to halt mining process, such as those in Bamnejnarong District, Chaiyaphum Province, they were summoned to the police station. This is despite them wearing masks and practicing social distancing. Another case in point is the local opposition against the sea wall project in Muang Ngarm beach, Songkhla Province. The locals were never informed about the project, and next thing they knew is there is already construction ongoing.
The locals wanted to organized an activity to oppose it, and informed the police about it with the social distancing and masks wearing in place. However, the authorities rejected it citing the Emergency Decree. The following day, hundreds of police officers showed up at the beach and surveilling on the locals, she explained.
“This is not about pandemic control, but it is about controlling the rights and freedom of the people. We’re not saying that Thailand is free from COVID19, but we have other laws in place that gives the power to authorities to handle the situation. It is the state’s duty to protect the people anyway. The Emergency Decree is not necessary and should not be renewed in June, otherwise the situation will deteriorate.
“The Emergency Decree not only gives the power to use curfew, but it grants the power to the administrative officers to have similar use of power as that of police. For example, in arresting and being exempted from the being accountable even to the administrative court. This is problematic and proven unnecessary. However, we still view that the use of Communicable Disease Act is necessary,” said the human rights lawyer.
She said that there are other laws that can control COVID19 without restricting rights and freedom outside the scope of pandemic control. Even the curfew needs review whether it is still even necessary under pandemic situation. If the curfew prevents people from travelling, perhaps we should control certain activities like tourism and entertainment, like insisting on social distancing, use of mask and sanitizer, etc rather than shutting them down completely.
“Similar to shutting down malls, we have to recognize that the impact not only befalls business owners but also the workers, especially the daily waged workers who are the most affected. As for the salaried workers, it is also challenging for business owners to pay their staff if they do not have income for several months. It is hard for any business owners to survive, whether big or small. This is not only about communities under tension but also about workers.”
Protection International Thailand, an organization working to protect human rights defenders, states that in handling pandemic situation, human rights and dignity according to the international convention on economic, social and cultural rights must be upheld and respected. The basic human rights in other international conventions must be first and foremost be respected. Under such crisis, where the people are suffering, especially the most marginalized groups, there must be remedy without exception. They must be able to access effective justice and legal reparations systems, which is fundamental to protect everyone’s economic, social and cultural rights in society.
There are 390 names who signed on the letter calling to revoke the Emergency Decree, including the Campaign For Public Policy On Mineral Resources (PPM), EnLAW Foundation, The Community Women Human Rights Defender Collective in Thailand, Rak Had Muang Ngarm People’s Network in Singhanakorn District, Songkhla Province, People’s Network Who Own Mineral Resources, EEC Watch, FTA Watch, The Mekong Butterfly, We Fair Network, Four Region Slums Network, Young People for Change Network, and Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand.