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Thailand: Internal Security Act Threatens Democracy and Human Rights

Government Proposes Draconian Steps to Institutionalize Military Control

(New York) - Thailand’s draft Internal Security Act (ISA) would allow the military unprecedented powers even after scheduled elections in December, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch has obtained a full text of the draft “Act on the Maintenance of National Security in the Kingdom,” along with comments and explanations submitted by Deputy Prime Minister Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the former army chief who led the September 2006 coup against then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The ISA would establish an Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) under the control of the prime minister to implement the law. ISOC would be given exceptional powers to respond to alleged threats to national security by restricting fundamental rights and overriding civilian administration and due process of law in parts of Thailand or the whole country at any time. No declaration of a state of emergency would be required for the ISOC to exercise its powers. The parliament and the courts are given no role in debating, reviewing or approving the use of these emergency-style powers.

“By introducing the Internal Security Act, the military-installed government will leave Thailand in an environment prone to abuses and the arbitrary use of power,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

The draft ISA was originally approved by the interim government of Gen. Surayud Chulanont on June 19, 2007. But it was widely criticized as the most blatant attempt by the military to retain greater powers and influence than it had under previous elected governments. The government adopted a revised draft on October 16.

Human Rights Watch expressed deep concern that the ISA would establish the army chief as the ISOC deputy director, while regional army commanders would be made directors of Regional Internal Security Operations Commands. This would place the military at the heart of a future civilian government at all levels.

“The Internal Security Act appears to be aimed at perpetuating military rule after upcoming elections,” said Adams. “The next government is likely to be weak and depend on the military for support, so the military is taking advantage and attempting to install itself at the heart of future governments.”

Human Rights Watch expressed concern about other provisions in the draft ISA, including:

  • Article 17, allowing the ISOC director to take command of state agencies by “issuing a notification commanding state officials not to perform any act or to perform any act” to the extent that this is necessary for preventing, suppressing, stopping, and rectifying any situation that affects internal security. This is a blank check to override all laws and human rights protections.
  • Article 18, allowing the ISOC director and designated officials to undertake criminal investigators without providing any safeguards or judicial oversight of summons, arrests and detentions. Among other due process concerns, this heightens the risk of torture and other mistreatment of individuals in custody or while under interrogation.
  • Article 19, allowing the ISOC director and designated officials to act as criminal investigation officials and have powers similar to those of public prosecutors and judges. They are given the authority to sentence any person found involved in a threat to internal security to attend re-education camps for up to six months. The draft does not state where such camps will be set up or under whose authority (civilian or military). This provision will allow for arbitrary incommunicado detention in undisclosed or inaccessible places where independent monitoring is impossible. It also sidesteps the protections in Thailand’s criminal justice system.
  • Article 22, an attempt to legislate impunity for human rights violations by removing the jurisdiction of the Administrative Court and its procedures to address human rights violations committed by state officials. The Administrative Court is currently the most important forum to address human rights violations in Thailand.
  • Article 23, which similarly places unnecessary limitations on the ability of victims of human rights violations to use civil, criminal, or administrative remedies to gain redress.
  • Article 17, allowing unnecessary restrictions, without a definite timeframe, on the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, assembly, association, and movement.

“Provisions of the draft ISA are a broad and shocking assertion of unchecked governmental powers that are more reminiscent of totalitarian regimes than a democracy,” said Adams. “Prime Minister Surayud should consider carefully whether this is the legacy he wants to leave to future generations. If he is the reformer he claims to be, he should withdraw this legislation immediately.”

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