(New York) – Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should press Thailand’s junta leader to end politically motivated arrests and censorship and ensure a rapid transition to democratic civilian rule, Human Rights Watch said today. Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha plans to visit Japan on March 13 and 14, 2015, to attend the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. The Thai military leader is scheduled to hold bilateral meetings with Abe and with Ban.
Ten months after the May 2014 military coup, Thailand’s ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) continues to violate fundamental human rights and freedoms and has yet to take substantial steps to restore civilian rule. In a meeting with Prayuth in February, Abe expressed, “Japan’s strong expectations for Thailand’s national reconciliation and a return of civilian rule as early as possible.” In response, Prayuth promised an election timeline in late 2014 or early 2015 and the speeding up of the process toward approving a new constitution “to build a healthy democracy.”
“Prime Minister Abe and Secretary-General Ban should press General Prayuth to uphold his pledges to respect human rights and restore democratic civilian rule through free and fair elections,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Japan and the United Nations should insist on a clear deadline for the end of military rule in Thailand.”
In his meeting with Prayuth, Abe should put into practice his 2013 vision of “diplomacy based on the fundamental values of freedom, democracy, basic human rights, and the rule of law.” In moving forward with its policy on Thailand, Abe should transform Japan’s traditional “quiet” diplomacy on human rights into a more strategic policy of public engagement and constructive criticism, and follow up to ensure previous promises made by Prayuth are fulfilled. Close diplomatic, political, economic, and socio-cultural ties provide Japan with significant leverage to be frank and forthright in raising human rights issues with Thailand.
At the UN Human Rights Council on March 4, 2015, Thailand’s Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Gen. Tanasak Patimapragorn announced that respect for human rights is a top priority for the Thai government. Thailand is now campaigning for a nonpermanent seat on the UN Security Council in an election to be held in October 2016. However, while promising collaboration on human rights with the United Nations, Tanasak spoke about “unique conditions” in each country, suggesting that Thailand would not accept international standards.
Since the coup last May, the NCPO junta has made no genuine progress toward restoring democratic rule. As both junta leader and prime minister, Prayuth wields broad powers without any judicial or other oversight. The interim constitution and the draconian Martial Law of 1914 provide immunity to junta members to commit human rights violations. Key constitutional bodies set up by the NCPO, such as the National Legislative Assembly, the National Reform Council, and the Constitution Drafting Committee are all stacked with military personnel and other junta loyalists.
The NCPO has severely repressed fundamental rights and freedoms that are essential for the restoration of democratic rule. The NCPO has enforced censorship and ordered media not to criticize the military. More than 200 websites – including Human Rights Watch’s Thailand page – have been blocked by the junta as threats to national security.
The NCPO has banned public gatherings of more than five people and prohibits anti-coup activities. At least 690 people have been summoned by the military authorities and pressured to stop making political comments, especially disagreement with the NCPO. Protesters who have expressed disagreement with the junta have been arrested and sent to military courts where they face being sentenced to prison with no right to appeal. For instance, on February 14 the authorities arrested five activists in Bangkok for holding a mock election. They have been charged with violating martial law and opposing the NCPO and face prosecution before a military court. Deeming political discussions and diverse political opinions as a threat to stability and national security, the NCPO has extended its grip into universities and banned discussions about human rights, democracy, and the performance of the Prayuth government.
“Regardless of its promises to respect human rights, the junta is further tightening its grip on power,” Adams said. “Pressure from Japan and the United Nations is needed get martial law revoked, censorship ended, and peaceful political criticism allowed. That will be a major step towards a return to democratic rule in Thailand.”