Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha waves after a handover ceremony for the new Royal Thai Army Chief, at the Thai Army Headquarters in Bangkok on September 30, 2014.

(New York) – Thailand’s credibility as a potential member of the United Nations Human Rights Council depends on the government’s addressing urgent human rights concerns at home, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, on October 18, 2014.

Thailand is a candidate, along with Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, and Qatar, for the four vacant Human Rights Council seats allocated for the Asia-Pacific region. In its July 22 letter to the UN General Assembly president declaring its candidacy, the Thai government promised to give “utmost importance to the promotion and protection of the rights of all people.”

“Thailand’s pledges to the Human Rights Council can’t be taken seriously so long as the country is under abusive military rule,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Thailand’s declarations supporting rights without action to revoke military law and end the repression of speech, association, and peaceful protest will be easily ignored.”

UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251, which established the Human Rights Council, says that council members are to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” Among the rights issues that the ruling junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), needs to urgently address are to lift martial law nationwide and restore civilian rule.

For almost five months since the May 22 coup, the NCPO has functioned without accountability and enjoyed immunity for its actions. Acting under the draconian Martial Law of 1914, the NCPO has ordered the media not to criticize the military and censored critical stories. The junta has blocked more than 200 websites, including the Human Rights Watch Thailand page, as threats to national security.

The NCPO has banned public gatherings of more than five people and any activity deemed anti-coup. The NCPO has arrested people who have publicly criticized the junta and prosecuted them in military courts, where there is no right to appeal. It has banned discussions at universities about human rights, democracy, the monarchy, and the performance of General Prayuth’s government as a threat to stability and national security.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called on all sides of the political divide in Thailand to actively support and participate in credible, independent, and impartial inquiries into violence and abuses. The Thai government should hold those responsible for human rights abuses to account, provide justice for victims of abuses, and end the cycle of violence and impunity both at the national level and in the restive southern border provinces.

“The Thai government should urgently undertake concrete measures to end military rule, stop repression of basic rights and freedoms, and provide justice for victims of abuses,” Adams said. “If Thailand wants to be a credible and influential member of the UN Human Rights Council, it needs to urgently restore respect for human rights and return to democratic civilian rule at home.”