(New York) – Thailand’s junta did little in 2018 to address the country’s mounting human rights concerns, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2019. The ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has promised general elections in February 2019, but took no steps to ensure they will lead to genuine civilian democratic rule.
“With an election approaching, Thailand’s junta should fully restore democratic freedoms so that all political parties can fully and fairly participate in the electoral process,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “But so far the junta just keeps persecuting critics, banning peaceful protests, and censoring the media.”
In the 674-page World Report 2019, its 29th edition, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the populists spreading hatred and intolerance in many countries are spawning a resistance. New alliances of rights-respecting governments, often prompted and joined by civic groups and the public, are raising the cost of autocratic excess. Their successes illustrate the possibility of defending human rights – indeed, the responsibility to do so – even in darker times.
Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, as head of the NCPO, has ruled unhindered by administrative, legislative, or judicial oversight or accountability, including for serious human rights violations. The military is authorized to arrest, detain, and interrogate civilians without safeguards against abuse. At least 1,800 civilians face prosecution in military courts, which fall far short of international fair trial standards.
Hundreds of activists and dissidents have been prosecuted on criminal charges such as sedition, computer-related crimes, and lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) for the peaceful expression of their views. Public gatherings of more than five people and pro-democracy activities remain prohibited. More than 100 activists recently faced illegal assembly charges, and some were accused of sedition for peacefully demanding elections without further delay and the lifting of restrictions on fundamental freedoms.
The junta has routinely enforced censorship and blocked public discussions about human rights and democracy in Thailand. In December, Thai authorities blocked access to the Human Rights Watch’s Thailand web page.
The junta disregards Thailand’s obligation to ensure that all human rights defenders can carry out their work in a safe and enabling environment. Government agencies and private companies have frequently retaliated against people who report allegations of abuse, filing criminal defamation and computer crimes lawsuits against them.
The junta has not acted to provide justice for past serious violations, notably the 2003 “war on drugs” killings and the 2010 deadly dispersal of street protests. Nor has it prosecuted any security personnel for abusive counterinsurgency operations in the southern border provinces, where separatist insurgents have also committed numerous abuses against civilians.
After the May 2014 coup, the United States, European Union, Australia, Japan, and many other countries said they would not fully restore bilateral relations until Thailand held free and fair elections to establish a democratic civilian government and improved respect for human rights. These governments should press the junta to immediately end repression, respect fundamental rights, and restore democratic civilian rule.
“General Prayuth’s empty promises should not be accepted at face value nor be an excuse to return to business as usual with Thailand,” Adams said. “Thailand’s allies should publicly state that they’ll only recognize an election that fully respects the will of the Thai people.”