ASEAN lawmakers on Thailand’s authoritarian path

22 05 2017

We reproduce this in full from ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights:

ASEAN lawmakers: Thailand moving in the wrong direction three years on from coup

JAKARTA – Parliamentarians from across Southeast Asia warned today that Thailand is moving in the wrong direction three years after the country’s military overthrew the last democratically elected government.

On the third anniversary of the 2014 coup, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) reiterated concerns over arbitrary arrests, persecution of government critics, and restrictions on fundamental freedoms. The collective of regional lawmakers said that moves by the ruling junta have dealt lasting damage to Thailand’s long-term democratic prospects, and urged military leaders to return the country to elected, civilian rule as soon as possible.

“In the past year, this military regime has further strengthened its hold on institutions to the detriment of both democracy and the economic well-being of the country. Its actions since taking power appear aimed at systematically and permanently crippling any hope of democratic progress,” said APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament.

“To put it bluntly, Thailand is headed in the wrong direction. With the military firmly in the driver’s seat and a new constitution that guarantees it a central role in politics for years to come, Thailand appears further from a return to genuine democracy than at any point in recent memory. Meanwhile, investors are increasingly nervous about the control exerted by elites in managing the country. The damage incurred will have severe, long-lasting consequences that will not be easily undone.”

A new military-drafted constitution, officially promulgated on 6 April, contains anti-democratic clauses, including provisions for an unelected prime minister and a wholly appointed upper chamber of parliament. A version of the charter was approved by voters in a controversial August 2016 referendum, which APHR criticized at the time as “undemocratic.”

“With its new charter, the Thai junta has designed something akin to Myanmar’s ‘disciplined democracy,’ a flawed system where the generals still hold key levers of power and are able to pull the strings from behind the scenes,” said APHR Vice Chair Eva Kusuma Sundari, a member of the House of Representatives of Indonesia.

“This is a real concern for all those hoping that the Thai people will be able to enjoy democracy and prosperity in the future. In order for Thailand to truly return to democracy, the military needs to step aside, allow for genuine elections, and commit to remaining in the barracks, rather than meddling in politics.”

Since seizing power on 22 May 2014, the military-led National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has placed severe restrictions on political activities and arbitrarily arrested hundreds for speaking out against it. Journalists, human rights defenders, and former politicians have been among those subjected to arbitrary detention and mandatory “attitude adjustment” at military and police facilities.

“The situation for human rights in the country has deteriorated. In the past three years, we have witnessed steadily increasing repression and a clampdown on basic freedoms. These developments are especially concerning in the context of a broader erosion of democracy and rights protections across the ASEAN region,” said APHR Board Member Walden Bello, a former Congressman from the Philippines.

“After repeated delays to promised elections, it’s not clear that the generals who currently hold power have any intention of giving it up for real. There are also real concerns among the international community about the continued use of Article 44 and its implications for accountability and human rights,” he added.

Article 44 of Thailand’s interim constitution enables the NCPO chief, Prayuth Chan-ocha, to unilaterally make policy and override all other branches of government, and Prayuth has used this sweeping authority to restrict fundamental freedoms.

Political gatherings remain banned, a clear violation of the right to peaceful assembly. Meanwhile, political parties are prohibited from holding meetings or undertaking any political activity.

The country has also witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of individuals arrested and charged under Article 112, Thailand’s harsh lèse-majesté statute, which outlaws criticism of the monarchy. Over 100 people have been arrested on such charges since the NCPO took power.

Press freedom has also come under attack. A new media bill, approved by the National Reform Steering Assembly, was repeatedly criticized by journalists and press freedom advocates. Though the final version of the bill forwarded to the cabinet earlier this month eliminated controversial proposed licensing requirements for media workers, it still includes provisions for government officials to sit on a regulatory body tasked with monitoring and accrediting media. This provision would undermine media freedom and constitute undue government interference into the affairs of the press, parliamentarians argued.

“The military government must recognize that a free, independent press is critical to a functioning democracy. It must also do a better job listening to civil society, including by ensuring adequate consultation with relevant stakeholders on all legislation,” Eva Sundari said.

“As Thailand moves into its fourth year under military rule, it is now more urgent than ever that concrete steps be taken to right the ship. Junta leaders need to understand that their actions, which fly in the face of international human rights norms and democratic standards, are no way to achieve a peaceful, prosperous future for Thailand,” Charles Santiago said.





ASEAN MPs on Chaiyapoom’s case

29 04 2017

PPT reproduces in full a statement by the ASEAN members and former members of parliament on the extrajudicial killing of Chaiyapoom Pasae:

ASEAN MPs concerned about safety of minority rights defenders more than a month after killing of activist in Thailand

JAKARTA, 28 April 2017 – Regional parliamentarians expressed concerns today over the lack of adequate investigation to date into the shooting death last month of indigenous Lahu activist Chaiyaphum Pasae in northern Thailand, as well as reported threats against other activists and local community members in the area.

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) called on the Thai military to fully comply with the investigation and release key evidence related to the incident, and urged authorities to fully investigate all reported threats in order to ensure that human rights and the rule of law are respected. The collective of regional lawmakers said the case highlighted the dangers faced by minority rights activists in Thailand, which are characteristic of similar threats around the region.

“These latest allegations, and the lack of satisfactory investigations, have done nothing to address growing concerns over the human rights situation in Thailand,” said APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament.

“This isn’t the first time Thai authorities have been accused of committing extrajudicial killings and certainly not the first time that they’ve failed to provide adequate answers as to what really happened. This raises serious concerns about the safety of activists who are putting their lives on the line to defend the rights of their communities.”

Ethnic Lahu activist, 17-year-old Chaiyaphum Pasae, was killed by security forces during an alleged anti-drug operation in Chiang Mai province on 17 March. Chaiyaphum was a strong advocate for the rights of his community and other ethnic minorities in northern Thailand, and had been actively involved in campaigns against drug use.

Authorities have claimed that some 2,800 methamphetamine tablets were found in Chaiyaphum’s car and that he was shot in “self-defense” after attempting to run away from soldiers. However, witnesses present at the scene told reporters that he was unarmed and that he was beaten by soldiers before being shot. One witness has already fled the country due to fears for his safety, APHR has learned.

Although the police opened an investigation shortly after Chaiyaphum’s death, there are indications that the military is refusing to cooperate, including by refusing to make public CCTV footage of the incident. Photographic evidence seen by APHR raises further questions regarding the official military account of events – questions which could be answered by the release of the CCTV footage and of the autopsy results.

APHR called on military authorities to release the CCTV footage to the public, and also urged the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT) to exercise its mandate and demand that, at a minimum, the footage be released to the NHRCT to aid in its own investigation.

“We can’t be sure if the police are failing to fully investigate the incident or if other authorities, namely the military, are blocking the investigation or not fully complying with requests. Either way, this is beginning to feel like so many other cases in the region where investigations have stalled due to inaction and no one is ever really held accountable and justice never served,” Santiago said.

“In addition to conducting their own independent investigation into the case, the NHRCT should ensure that no one in Thailand is above the law and that the incident itself, as well as threats and intimidation against witnesses and other activists, are fully investigated by the competent authorities. The military’s cooperation in this investigation shouldn’t be up for debate.”

Parliamentarians also raised concerns about the safety of other community members following reported death threats received by Maitree Chamroensuksakul, another Lahu activist who worked closely with Chaiyaphum. Maitree, who has also been outspoken about the abuses faced by his community, was recently told by local authorities to cease speaking out and recently found a bullet left on the doorstep of his house – a clear threat on his life. The threats against him follow a pattern of similar intimidation of other activists and community members in the area.

“It is imperative that the Thai authorities put in place the necessary measures to ensure the safety of Mr. Maitree and all witnesses in this case, in addition to fully investigating all reported threats against them,” said APHR Board Member Walden Bello, a former Philippine Congressman.

The cases highlight a dangerous trend in Thailand, where human rights defenders are increasingly at risk, APHR said. Parliamentarians called on the diplomatic community and the National Human Rights Commission to use all available means to ensure that the Thai authorities investigate these cases, punish the perpetrators, and protect – not threaten – activists and local communities.

“Mr. Chaiyaphum’s killing has come at a time when fundamental freedoms, particularly freedom of expression, are under severe threat in Thailand. Fully investigating his death would send a clear message that the Thai authorities are finally willing to abide by their international human rights obligations, and that his case will not become just one more entry into a long list of cases of impunity for extrajudicial killings,” Bello said.





ASEAN parliamentarians on the junta and its charter

26 04 2016

We thought readers might find this media release of interest:

Regional MPs concerned by Thailand’s draft constitution and planned referendum

JAKARTA, 25 April 2016 — Parliamentarians from across Southeast Asia have expressed deep concerns about Thailand’s new draft constitution, as well as a planned referendum on the charter, highlighting an apparent effort by the military government to strengthen and prolong its control over Thai politics and stifle open debate.

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) criticized the decision by the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to outlaw campaigns for or against the charter in advance of the referendum, slated for 7 August, and called on Thailand’s leaders to allow for a robust, public discussion of the draft.

“The Thai people are being asked to vote on the core laws that will determine how they are governed, and they aren’t even allowed to speak about them publicly, under threat of imprisonment. How can they be expected to make an informed decision under this arrangement?” said APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament.

“If the junta truly believes—as it insists—that this is a matter for the people to decide, then it should allow the people to speak directly to one another about the draft’s merits and drawbacks. Without allowing for such open debate, the Thai junta is effectively attempting to force-feed this constitution to the population.”

The law governing the rules for the referendum, which was approved by the current military-appointed legislature on 7 April, mandates up to 10 years’ imprisonment for anyone convicted of disseminating false information to influence voters or otherwise disrupt the referendum. Junta leaders have also failed to clarify their plan if voters reject the constitution, with some insinuating that a failure to approve the current draft could prolong military rule further.

“People shouldn’t be thrown in jail for simply expressing their opinions. We have already seen individuals who have made comments on the charter subjected to arbitrary detention and so-called ‘re-education,’ and the referendum rules seem designed to stoke fear among the people and stifle debate further,” said APHR Vice Chair Son Chhay, a member of the Cambodian National Assembly.

“The fate of democracy in Thailand has implications for the entire region. It is critical that leaders from around Southeast Asia stand with the Thai people and speak out in support of free expression and informed debate. This draft constitution must be judged on its merits through open discussion. Attempting to gag and intimidate critics is no way to run a country and certainly no way to resolve the political polarization and strife that has characterized Thai politics in recent years,” Son Chhay added.

The draft constitution, which was released publicly on 29 March, includes clauses mandating a fully appointed Senate and enabling the appointment of an unelected prime minister. The charter gives the military broad control over administrative affairs even after an elected government is installed. In addition, clauses of the charter enable the permanent legalization of orders issued unilaterally by NCPO leader Prayuth Chan-ocha under Article 44 of the junta-drafted interim constitution.

Civil society and political parties in Thailand have criticized the draft, highlighting its undemocratic provisions, including the special place reserved for military appointees. These critiques were echoed by regional MPs.

“The fact that the constitution preserves an explicit role for the military indefinitely is particularly concerning,” said APHR Vice Chair Eva Kusuma Sundari, a member of the House of Representatives in Indonesia.

“We have seen the result of a similar setup in Myanmar, where the military controls 25 percent of seats and is able to veto constitutional amendments. It’s the very thing that the people of Myanmar and its new, elected government are now struggling to change. It seems odd that Thailand would want to adopt and adapt elements of this widely criticized model.”

Parliamentarians also highlighted the lack of protections for community rights and the environment, which were present in previous Thai constitutions. The new draft’s assertion that the state is empowered to protect certain rights provides for a sweeping mandate, which is open to abuse by ruling authorities.

“Any trappings of direct democracy, which were preserved in earlier drafts, have been eliminated. The people’s control over their own rights and affairs is severely limited as well, and that sets a dangerous precedent for Thailand’s ability to return to full democracy,” Sundari said.

“This constitution appears to be an attempt by the Thai military to subvert normal democratic processes and strengthen its hold on the political system,” Charles Santiago added. “This is yet another worrying sign for a country that has been backsliding dramatically on its human rights commitments under an unelected military government for nearly two years now.”





Prayuth, the draft charter and domination

16 02 2016

We all know that The Dictator is in California, at a US-ASEAN summit. There aren’t any other military dictators attending, even if there are some leaders who share Prayuth’s authoritarianism.

We felt that readers might find a story at The Washington Times of some interest reminding American readers and President Obama of the problems facing Thailand.

A coup-installed government writing a new constitution and opposition parties (and supportive parties) and human rights groups rejecting it and the junta.

For Americans, the article notes that “the balancing act the Obama administration has faced dealing with the new government [it is hardly new after about 21 months].” The once “key U.S. ally in the region” is now a problem: “the government’s anti-democratic tendencies and persistent courting by China have put heavy strains on the bilateral relationship.”

There’s a bit of repeating things about the DOA undemocratic charter and the junta’s demands and threats:

Many people are afraid to directly criticize the draft constitution because of the regime’s frequently shifting punishments against free speech, enforced by threats to seize assets and military trials for civilian dissidents who express themselves.

Prayuth’s tantrums are mentioned: he grumbled, he labeled journalists “stupid,”  threatened to have the country “depart from this world, from the international community.”

It quotes Michael H. Nelson, a research fellow at Thammasat University, who reckons the military plans to hang on, in some form, for another four years. Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of the Faculty of Political Science at Ubon Ratchathani University, essentially agrees: “It is more than likely that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s military junta will remain essentially in power, even if we have elections in 2017, albeit with a new prime minister…”.

Burin Kantabutra, a columnist, is also quoted as saying: “I fear we are headed towards the political system of the People’s Republic of China…. I think that post-charter, postelection Thai politics will be a train wreck…”.

A “scholar of Southeast Asia who asked not to be identified because of his research” [hmmm] explains that the “military is too backward, hopeless at government and an embarrassment…”. That scholar reckons this means there will be an election.

PPT reckons that it might be a reason for not having an election.





Two border tales

8 12 2011

Readers may be interested on two reports related to Thailand’s borders:

1) The Irrawaddy has a report on the Thai industrial and port development project at Tavoy/Dawei in Burma. PPT has mentioned this Italian-Thai corporation-led development previously, here, here, here and here.

This report is of a visit to the area by a “fact-finding mission” from the Foundation for Ecological Recovery. Beerawat Dheeraprasart, FER’s chairman said “he is worried about the environmental impact of building the massive seaport.”

FER reported “that the Thai Investment Board has offered a substantial sum of money to build the Tavoy Deep Seaport and Industrial Zone.” FER worried about issues of local participation and environmental impact and compared it to the troubled Map Ta Phut Industrial Zone in Rayong, although the Burma project is said to be “eight times bigger than …[Map Ta Phut].”

FER sees the investment in Tavoy as an effort by the Thai investors as an attempt to flee the troubled Map Ta Phut project.

2) The other report is on the violent border clashes between Thailand and Cambodia earlier in 2011 by the International Crisis Group. The report, which also reflects on ASEAN’s role, is titled Waging Peace: ASEAN and the Thai-Cambodian Border Conflict (the link is to the Executive Summary, from where the PDF of the report can be downloaded).

The ICG argues that the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) used the issue of Cambodia’s attempt to list Preah Vihear as a World Heritage site “to whip up nationalist sentiments against the subsequent Thaksin [Shinawatra]-back[ed] government and Cambodia in 2008, halting border demarcation and setting off the deadly bilateral confrontation.”

The role of ASEAN is said to break “new ground by deciding to dispatch observers to monitor a conflict between member states.” Well, kind of, for the deployment of border observers has yet to take place, mainly because Thailand’s Army is obdurate, a point noted in the report.





Updated: Elections, observers and boycotts

25 03 2011

In MCOT News, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban is mentioned twice on rejecting foreign scrutiny.

First, reflecting the fact the the military already presented the government with a fait accompli, Suthep has been forced to agree that “said Indonesia, in its capacity as chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), or any other country, should not meddle in the border committee meeting.” The military had refused to accept this, so the Abhisit Vejjajiva government is unable to move on any resolution to the disputes on the Cambodian border.

Second, Suthep has also disagreed with the idea that Thailand “seek international observers to monitor the upcoming general election…”. That was his response to a report that the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), “planned to invite election observers from international organisations” to observe the elections.

Suthep made this a nationalist issue, wondering “why the UDD does not respect Thailand’s national sovereignty but respects foreigners by inviting them to be involved in the country’s internal affairs.” Suthep apparently wants nothing to do with foreigners, saying the whole idea was “inappropriate.”

It is curious that the current government and its backers are so spooked by suggestions of international observation.

The yellow shirts are also opposed to any third party involvement with the border dispute with Cambodia. As for international observers for the elections, if Sondhi Limthongkul has his way, the idea would be redundant. Sondhi has called on the PAD-born New Politics Party to boycott any elections and to campaign for a no vote when people cast their ballots. Readers will recall that PAD successfully called on opposition parties to boycott the April 2006 elections and for voters to cast a no vote (effectively a vote against the Thai Rak Thai Party). This was a crucial element moving the country towards the 2006 coup and beginning a a process of judicialization that began with the king’s call for the judiciary to sort out the disputes that followed the boycotted elections.

While the Wikipedia article just noted refers to this political intervention by the king as “an unusual but socially unifying step in declaring the landslide elections undemocratic, the election was declared invalid by the Constitutional Court…”, this is anything but true. The action set in train a series of events and decisions that have seen Thailand embroiled in 7 years of political disputation and crisis. Sondhi’s call for a boycott by the NPP is already causing dispute, but this time within the yellow shirts.

The Nation refers to a “split within the leadership yellow shirts’ leadership.” The NPP’s leader Somsak Kosaisuk said “the party’s executives and branch heads had resolved at their meeting on Tuesday to field candidates in the election.”

Somsak said NPP “is required to abide by the Political Party Act and the party’s own regulations.” Now PPT is not sure why Somsak and his yellow shirts have suddenly become believers in election laws, although Somsak appeared willing to consider Sondhi’s call, presumably if it gains any political traction.

Somsak does, however, make a point that sits oddly with the opposition to “foreign interference” when he notes that the “New Politics Party was set up in accordance with a resolution by PAD members from all over the country, as well as some 6,000 PAD members in the United States – not just from the five PAD leaders…”. Like the current government, it seems there are “tame” foreigners (we assume some of these PAD members are holding the documents of foreign countries) who are politically useful.

More significantly, Somsak seems to view the NPP as part of a grassroots movement while Sondhi sees it as a tool for himself and Chamlong Srimuang and the murky backers of the PAD. These latter leaders are also busily denigrating the very idea of elections and elected politicians. Sondhi said: “If the election is allowed to go ahead, we will see a return of beasts from hell…”.

It seems to PPT that Sondhi is worried that pro-Thaksin parties will do better than the current regime thinks they will. That said, Sondhi and others have also been attacking Abhisit also.

Sondhi claims that “the PAD leaders have resolved that we will campaign for people all over the country to not vote…”. Sondhi has never really been committed to NPP; that’s why it is led by Somsak, who was one of the early leaders of PAD, but never a major public figure. PPT expects taht Sondhi and his cronies will get their way. Questions remain: will a rightist boycott have any public support, and are there are darker forces behind this move.

Update: The Jakarta Globe has an interesting take on the border observers issue.





Predictable over-reactions, the threat to ASEAN and war

7 11 2009

The Bangkok Post (7 November 2009) has two stories worth considering together on the current Thailand-Cambodia dispute.

The first (“Recalling ambassador seen as ‘over-reaction’ in dispute”) sets out the reactions from a series of diplomats and concerns that Thailand, as the chair of ASEAN is sparring with another member state, threatening ASEAN, the Mekong Summit and the united voice of Southeast Asian countries in dealing with big powers. Professor Charnvit Kasetsiri, who has long tried to be a moderate and reasonable voice on Thailand’s relations with its neighbor is also cited. Of course, the cited former Thai ambassador disagrees.

Cited in the second story (“Borwornsak backs PM’s retaliation”) is  law academic Bowornsak Uwanno, who is also the head of the King Prajadhipok’s Institute (the main royalist institution that seeks to deny Thailand’s democratic history) . Regular readers will know that PPT has been critical of a couple of academics who seem to fit a long “tradition” of being for hire by governments of various persuasions. Bowornsak seems to fit the category, having jumped from a senior position in the Thaksin government to the military’s side and as a royalist supporter of the military-palace government led by the Democrat Party.

The all too predictable Bowornsak supports the Abhisit Vejjajiva government’s “retaliation.” However, he also warns that “could be the starting point of a fall” of ASEAN. That starting point probably had more to do with the legacy of the ASEAN old guard who brought in Burma, but the point remains that the coincidence of this current dispute between the chair country and another member is indeed potentially disintegrating.

In The Nation, ASEAN boss and Democrat Party member Surin Pitsuwan also expresses “concern over the escalation of tensions between Cambodia and Thailand, appealing to both countries to exercise maximum restraint,” and pointing to the dispute’s potential for “undermin[ing] the credibility of Asean…”.

In the Bangkok Post, and continuing the predictable line, a Thai military leader predicts “But if the war really breaks out, Thailand will be the winner.” What can PPT say that isn’t predictable?

Update: Further on war, under the somewhat misleading headline “Situation in Si Sa Ket normal” (7 November), it is reported that “villagers in Bhumisalon border village nearby the Preah Vihear ancient temple of Cambodia had built 15 bunkers at the village school. The bunkers are for safety of the school’s teachers and students in case the war between the two countries takes place.”