(New York) – World leaders gathered for the United Nations General Assembly should urge Thailand’s prime minister, Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha, to end repression of human rights and quickly restore democratic civilian rule, Human Rights Watch said today.
General Prayut, who led a coup in May 2014, is scheduled to speak at the UN General Assembly in New York on September 29, 2015. The theme for this year’s General Assembly is “The United Nations at 70: the road ahead for peace, security, and human rights.”
“Thailand’s junta leader should get the welcome he deserves at the UN, which is an earful about the junta’s abysmal human rights record,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The leaders attending the General Assembly should use their meetings with General Prayut to urge an end to the junta’s wave of repression and restore democratic civilian rule.”
Thailand is campaigning for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council in an election that will be held in October 2016. While Thailand has promised collaboration with the UN, the junta has frequently raised what it termed Thailand’s “unique conditions” to deflect criticism of its human rights violations. Its “roadmap” for a return to democratic rule has repeatedly been pushed back.
The General Assembly presents an important opportunity for concerned governments and UN officials to urge Prayut to act immediately on a broad range of human rights concerns, including the military’s sweeping and unchecked powers. Section 44 of the interim constitution of the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) grants broad authority to the junta to carry out policies and actions without any effective oversight or accountability for human rights abuses.
For instance, on September 10, Prayut told the media that he would not tolerate criticism of his administration: “No one can oppose me. If they still don’t learn that, they will be detained again and again.… I might tape their mouths shut too.” Three days later, a well-known journalist, Pravit Rojanaphruk, was summoned and then held for several days in incommunicado military detention for criticizing the junta leader.
The NCPO has severely suppressed fundamental rights and freedoms. More than 200 websites about the political and human rights situation in Thailand have been blocked for having content the junta considers threatening to national security. The junta has banned public gatherings of more than five people and prohibits most political activities. Protesters who have peacefully expressed disagreement with the junta have been arrested and sent to military courts, where some of them could face up to seven years in prison on sedition charges.
The junta has made frequent use of Thailand’s laws against criticizing the monarchy. Since the coup, 53 lese majeste cases have been brought against suspects – 40 of whom allegedly posted or shared comments online. Military courts have imposed especially harsh sentences, such as the 60-year sentence (later reduced to 30 years) for Pongsak Sriboonpeng for six Facebook postings.
Since May 2014, the NCPO has summoned at least 751 people to report to the military authority. Most were politicians, activists, and journalists accused by the junta of criticizing or opposing military rule. Under section 44 of the interim constitution, the military can secretly detain people without charge or trial for up to seven days. Military personnel interrogate detainees in military facilities without providing access to their lawyers or ensuring other safeguards against mistreatment. The junta has refused to provide information about people in secret military detention, increasing the risk of enforced disappearance, torture, and other ill treatment. There has been no official inquiry into allegations of torture and mistreatment in military custody.
Since the coup, Thai authorities have continued to violate the rights of asylum seekers and refugees under customary international law not to be returned to a country where they face repression. On July 9, the Thai government forcibly repatriated 109 ethnic Uighurs to China. Thai authorities have attempted to seal off the border to prevent boats carrying ethnic Rohingya fleeing abuses, persecution, and hardship in Burma and Bangladesh from landing. Thai authorities have frequently intercepted these boats and pushed them back to the sea after providing rudimentary aid and supplies.
“World leaders should not tread lightly in broaching Thailand’s rights violations with General Prayut,” Adams said. “By being forthright in raising concerns, concerned governments can help reverse the human rights crisis in Thailand and put the country on the path toward civilian democratic rule.”