UN, HRW take aim at military's rights record
Thai government pledges to the United Nations Human Rights Council Wednesday were "meaningless," Human Rights Watch said.
Thailand appeared before the council for the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva, where its human rights situation was examined. The Thai delegation vowed to protect and promote human rights as well as restore democracy.
"The Thai government's responses to the UN review fail to show any real commitment to reversing its abusive rights practices or protecting fundamental freedoms," said John Fisher, HRW Geneva director. "While numerous countries raised concerns about the human rights situation in Thailand, the Thai delegation said nothing that would dispel their fears of a continuing crisis."
Countries raised questions and made recommendations regarding restrictions of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly imposed on citizens under junta rule.
Canada recommended that the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) revoke its ban on political gatherings -- Order 3/2558 -- as well as to cease using the Computer Crime Act to silence political dissidents.
Belgium advised Thailand to amend its lese-majeste law and end military trials of civilians.
Australia voiced concerns over the military's enhanced powers under Order 13/2559, which gives soldiers sweeping powers to arrest and detain. Denmark also criticised arbitrary detentions.
"Limitations [of citizens' freedoms] have been in place only to maintain public order and prevent further polarisation," said Justice Ministry permanent secretary Charnchao Chaiyanukit -- who led the Thai delegation to Geneva.
The NCPO's actions only target individuals who stir up hatred or violence, another Thai Justice Ministry representative added. The public is usually unaffected although their freedom of expression may be unintentionally curbed, she said.
The Thai delegation also defended the prime minister's use of Section 44 of the interim charter, which grants him full and unchecked powers.
Activists raised concerns regarding the section, which they said is contrary to the rule of law and used to restrict citizens' freedom of assembly.
According to a Thai government representative, use of the section is "limited" and "for specific purposes".
Since the 2014 coup, the junta has transformed Thailand into a military state, said human rights lawyer Sirikan Charoensiri. Sedition, lese-majese or computer crime laws are being used to target regime critics, who are then tried in military courts.
In Thailand's first UPR process in 2011, most countries expressed concerns regarding the lese-majeste law. Today, the situation has worsened and the military has a wider array of legal tools it may choose from to silence dissidents, she said.
Interpretation of those laws is subjective and discretionary, while every step in the judicial process is overseen by the military, added Sunai Phasuk, a HRW Thailand researcher.
Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya said Wednesday the country should not be shy when defending the lese-majeste law. He said efforts to address the problems reflect the Thai context and do not affect other countries.