No Human Rights to Watch

28 01 2016

Thailand’s human rights are not just trampled upon by the military and their boots, but are simply outside the mindset of the military junta and its leaders. They do not neglect or infringe on human rights but do not comprehend the idea of human rights. Every action by this censorious and thuggish regime speak to their incapacity to comprehend notions of universal rights such as freedom of expression. The military in Thailand maintains torture, enforced disappearance and murder with impunity. So hierarchical is the military and so inhabited by persons trained to toady before their bosses and betters that any notion of human rights is alien.

Human Rights Watch has just released its annual report, which includes a country chapter on Thailand. Nothing unexpected at all in the dismal report on Thailand under the military dictatorship. HRW’s press release is reproduced below:

Thailand’s military junta tightened its grip on power and severely repressed fundamental rights in the past year, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2016. Public pledges by the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to respect human rights and return the country to elected civilian rule went unfulfilled.

Human Rights WatchIn the 659-page World Report 2016, its 26th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that the spread of terrorist attacks beyond the Middle East and the huge flows of refugees spawned by repression and conflict led many governments to curtail rights in misguided efforts to protect their security. At the same time, authoritarian governments throughout the world, fearful of peaceful dissent that is often magnified by social media, embarked on the most intense crackdown on independent groups in recent times.

“Under military rule, Thailand’s human rights crisis has gone from bad to worse, and there seems to be no end in sight,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The junta is jailing and prosecuting dissenters, barring public protests, censoring the media, and restricting critical political speech.”

The NCPO, led by Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha, has committed human rights violations with total impunity since the May 2014 coup, disregarding concerns raised by the United Nations, human rights groups, and many foreign governments. On March 31, 2015, nationwide enforcement of the Martial Law Act of 1914 was replaced with section 44 of the interim constitution, which absolves those acting on behalf of the NCPO of all legal liability. In November 2015, the junta proposed that a new constitution being drafted should guarantee blanket amnesty for the use of military force to “protect national security.”

The date promised by the NCPO to hold elections to return to civilian rule continued to slide, making the timing wholly uncertain. Meanwhile, the junta continued to ban political activity and peaceful public gatherings, carried out hundreds of arbitrary arrests and detentions, and disregarded serious allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees in military custody. At least 27 people were charged with sedition for criticizing military rule and violating the junta’s ban on public assembly. During the year, the NCPO increased its use of military courts, which lack independence and fail to comply with international fair trial standards, to try civilians, mostly political dissidents and alleged offenders of the lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) laws.

The junta forced the cancellation of at least 60 events, seminars, and academic panels on the political situation and human rights in 2015, including a report launch by Human Rights Watch, because it deemed the events a threat to stability and national security.

The junta made frequent use of Thailand’s draconian laws against criticizing the monarchy. At least 56 lese majeste cases have been brought since the coup, mostly for online commentary. Military courts have imposed harsh sentences. In August, the Bangkok Military Court sentenced Pongsak Sriboonpeng to 60 years in prison for his alleged lese majeste Facebook postings (later reduced to 30 years when he pleaded guilty). It was the longest recorded sentence for lese majeste in Thailand’s history.

Prayut has frequently stated that soldiers should not be condemned for any loss of life they caused during the 2010 political confrontations in Bangkok. To date, not a single member of the Thai security forces has been criminally prosecuted for serious rights abuses related to counterinsurgency operations in Thailand’s southern Pattani, Narathiwat, and Yala provinces.

The government defied pleas from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and several foreign governments and violated the international prohibition against forcible return (refoulement) of refugees and asylum seekers to countries where they faced likely persecution. The most egregious instances included the deportation of two Chinese activists to China in November, and the deportation of 109 ethnic Uighurs to China in July.

“Respect for human rights in Thailand is going down the drain,” Adams said. “The international community urgently needs to press the junta to reverse course, end repression, respect fundamental rights, and fulfill its pledges to return to democratic civilian rule.”

Updated: Investigate abduction, drop charges

23 01 2016

As Thailand’s military dictatorship thumbs its nose at international norms and laws and embeds repression, Human Rights Watch has demanded that the military junta “urgently investigate the abduction and alleged beating and mistreatment of prominent student activist Sirawith Seritiwat by army soldiers” and should “drop charges against peaceful critics and end the military trial of civilians.

That all makes sense to us at PPT, but it will mean little to the military junta and The Dictator. HRW knows this, stating:

“The abduction and apparent mistreatment of a prominent student activist is further glaring evidence that wanton violations of human rights are the norm under the NCPO’s military dictatorship in Thailand,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “What’s even worse is Gen. Prayut brushed off international concerns and condemnation, and appeared to tolerate the abusive treatment Sirawith received by emphasizing the military could ‘use any measure’ to carry out an arrest.”

The extent to which Thailand under the junta has moved to embed authoritarianism, HRW notes that General Prayuth Chan-ocha has not only refused to investigate this abduction but claimed that his military thugs can use “any measures to arrest Sirawith.” HRW quotes The Dictator:

Officials acted on an arrest warrant. He [Sirawith] violated the Public Assembly Bill and the NCPO’s order [Order Number 3/2558, which bans public assembly and political activity] … Officials could use any measures to arrest him. The arrest doesn’t have to happen in front of camera, which could then trigger a protest … Why don’t people respect the laws instead of asking for democracy and human rights all the time? … No one is allowed to oppose [the NCPO]. I dare you to try to oppose [the NCPO] … I don’t care what the international community would think about this. I will send officials to explain to foreign embassies. I am not afraid of them. I will tell them to understand that this is Thailand and we are enforcing Thai laws.

HRW makes quite a few reasonable observations about the decline of rights and freedoms under the junta and its flagrant abuse of international law.

HRW has support in a similar call from the United Nations Human Rights Office for South-East Asia (OHCHR) that has urged the “military to drop all charges against 11 student activists arrested for violating a ban on political gatherings.” Laurent Meillan, the acting OHCHR regional representative, states: “The right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression and opinion are fundamental rights and should never be regarded as a serious criminal offence…. We urge the authorities to drop all charges against the students.”

It should not be forgotten that these students are charged because the military junta will not countenance public scrutiny of its projects; in this case, Corruption Park. So far, it has successfully covered up on claims of corruption and managed to have the media lose sight of the case. These students keep it alive, so thuggish repression is deemed necessary.

This junta remains uninterested in human rights, seeing them as a Western plot against the monarchy and junta, and is determined to return Thailand to its dark ages of military repression, aligning its practices with some of the world’s most abusive regimes.

Update: A reader points out that there is a kind of answer to The Dictator available. When he asks: “Why don’t people respect the laws instead of asking for democracy and human rights all the time?”, the well-known historian Nidhi Eowsriwong has a useful essay that can be seen as a riposte. It is his “When Orders Become Law.”

The military’s blacksite

30 12 2015

Some time ago, when two lese majeste detainees – Prakrom Warunprapha and Suriyan Sujaritpalawong – died in custody, PPT asked about the origin and nature of the detention site, inside a Bangkok military base.

In a Prachatai report, at the time, Gen Paiboon Kumchaya, the Minister of “Justice,” denies any responsibility for the site or for the deaths. He argued that “the remand facility in the 11th Army Division is not a ‘military prison’, but a normal remand facility runs by the Department of Corrections.”

PPT added: We do not think that “normal” is in any way the right description of this military facility housing a makeshift prison (or is it Detention Site Green?).

At last, more attention is being given to this dark and deadly detention facility that the regime is expanding.

The Bangkok Post reports on the site using information from lawyers. It says it is a “new” detention center, although we remain unconvinced by this. If it is new, it appears developed following learning from the CIA’s covert prison sites.

For example, when “lawyer Winyat Chatmontree was allowed to meet his client in detention at a Bangkok army base, Pratin Chankate shuffled in blindfolded and shackled by military guards.” Former Border Patrol Police officer Pratin is accused of being involved in the mysterious “Khon Kaen model” plot to perhaps assassinate someone, somewhere. He was transferred to the military detention site from police custody, apparently deemed a threat to national security. Winyat’s client was “taken away after five minutes by soldiers…”.

Lawyers who work with the “detainees say they are routinely denied access to their clients and, in some cases, have themselves been subject to intimidation.”

Winyat says that in most cases: “The military is running most of the process, from interrogation to building cases…. Then they hand it over to police to continue what they started.”

The military dictatorship claims that the detention center at the 11th Army Circle base “is necessary for the efficient investigation of major threats to the kingdom.” In fact, it seems more likely that it is a convenient place for the milder forms of “enhanced interrogation” and for extracting “confessions.” Indeed, it seems that all inmates either confess or die in custody.

Human rights groups say the facility is designed to keep “suspects under army control as they are railroaded through a system of military courts…”.

The facility, “established within the military base under a decree issued on Sept 11 … [t]hat means detainees can be held there for up to three months.”

Sunai Phasuk, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, declares: “It’s fair to call this facility a ‘black site’ of the Thai military…”

HRW: Investigate army torture, end detention in military camps

5 12 2015

On 3 December, Human Right Watch issued the statement set out below. A day later, yet another death in military custody was reported, this time from southern Thailand. Abdullayib Dolah, 42, died of unexplained causes at the Inkayuth army base, notorious for enforced disappearances, torture and illegal detentions.

Thailand: Investigate Alleged Army Torture
End Detention of Civilians in Military Bases

Thai authorities should promptly and impartially investigate the alleged torture of suspects in military detention, Human Rights Watch said today. To prevent further abuses, the government should immediately transfer all civilians detained at military facilities to officially recognized civilian places of detention.

The case of Prathin Chanket, 60, a former border patrol officer, is the latest alleged mistreatment in military custody. Prathin told his lawyer that after soldiers arrested him in Khon Kaen province on November 21, 2015, he was taken to a local army camp for two days before being transferred to an undisclosed army base. He said military interrogators slapped his face and kicked his legs to extract information and force him to confess to making lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) comments and being involved in plots against the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta. They alleged that Prathin was seeking to assassinate Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha and sabotage the “Bike For Dad” cycling event to be hosted by the government on December 11 to commemorate the King’s birthday.

Prathin said that while at the army base, officials mostly kept him blindfolded and did not allow any contact with the outside world. His whereabouts could only be confirmed when the army handed him over to the police on November 26. The authorities paraded Prathin and another suspect in the same case, Nathapol Nawanle, 26, in front of cameras at a press conference. The Bangkok Military Court ordered the two placed in pretrial detention at the 11th Army Circle military base in Bangkok. There, Prathin was allowed to have only one brief meeting with his lawyer. He was brought to the meeting room with a hood placed over his head, hands and feet shackled, and accompanied by armed soldiers.

Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists submitted a letter to the Thai government on November 24, raising serious concerns regarding conditions at the 11th Army Circle military base after the recent deaths of fortune teller Suriyan Sucharitpolwong and Police Maj. Prakrom Warunprapa, both charged with lese majeste, during their detention there. On the same day, the Southeast Asia Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called for the immediate closure of this detention facility and an independent investigation into these custodial death cases.

The government has so far denied requests by human rights groups to visit detainees and examine conditions at the 11th Army Circle military base and other military detention facilities. Thai authorities have also failed to conduct serious and credible inquiries of alleged torture and other abuses in military detention.

The risk of torture and other serious abuses significantly increases when detainees are held incommunicado in military detention. Since the May 2014 coup, the NCPO junta has detained hundreds of politicians, activists, journalists, and people they accuse of supporting the deposed government, disrespecting or offending the monarchy, or being involved in anti-junta protests and activities. Many of these people have been held incommunicado in military camps where they have been interrogated without safeguards against torture and other ill-treatment.

“The Thai government’s use of military detention is a serious problem that should immediately end,” Adams said. “The government’s failure to heed concerns from the UN and human rights groups that civilians are at risk of serious abuses in military custody shows that the junta is leading Thailand into pariah state status.”

Updated: Monarchist monk mad about the U.S.

1 10 2015

Readers will recall the activities of Buddha Issara, a political monk who campaigned against elections and the elected government and who supported the anti-democrat movement. He is a rabid royalist.

Rightist monks are not new in Thailand, with Buddha Issara’s antics reminding us of Back in the 1970s, another defining element of rightist extremism was the rise of fascist monks. Most notorious was the palace-linked monk Kittivudho Bhikkhu, who claimed that killing Communists was not much of a sin. He meant all “leftists” who were also considered a threat to the monarchy. He was also a fraudster and shyster.

Prachatai reports that the “pro-coup Buddhist monk known for leading anti-election mobs prior to the 2014 coup d’état has urged the US [government] and Human Rights Watch, a human rights civil society group, not to touch Thailand’s lèse majesté law or intervene in its domestic affairs.”

Not much there that anyone would not guess from the right-wing royalist, but the rest of the report suggests that Buddha Issara is one very dumb monk – one of the “uneducate” – or is more than a little kooky.

Buddha IssaraOn Monday, the monk posted a letter on his Facebook page, addressed to Glyn Davies, the new U.S. ambassador to Thailand.

In the letter he urged “the US and Human Rights Watch not to intervene in Thai politics and to stop calling on the Thai junta to amend ‘Articles 112 and 116’ of ‘the Constitution’.” Neither Article is in any constitution, and he refers to the draconian and feudal lese majeste law and the sedition law.

He called for a rally at the U.S. Embassy today.

The racist, rightist and royalist monk stated:

We have to show those ‘Farang’ (westerners) that we Thai people will not let anyone insult and intimidate our beloved monarchy. Do not breach diplomatic protocol and intervene in our domestic affairs,” Buddha Issara stated. “This time if something happens, I ‘Phraya Ratchasi (the king of the lions) of Chaengwattana Stage’ (one of the PDRC stages in Bangkok before the coup) will be responsible.

According to the report, he added another error when he stated:

that the reason he will not go to the Human Rights Watch office, which according to him is in the UN Headquarters in Bangkok, is because it is a ‘satun’ (vulgar) organisation established by the US government.

HRW has no office in Bangkok.

Update: According to Khaosod, the rightist monk did lead a group of demonstrators “at the U.S. Embassy to urge the United States to stop calling for Thailand to amend its laws against insulting the monarchy.” Provided with “tight police security,” the royalist monk established his hierarchy of “institutions”:

“Thailand is not the colony of any country. We have Nation, Religion and the Monarchy as our own beloved institutions,” read the letter addressed to recently installed U.S. Ambassador Glyn Davies. “Especially the monarchy, which has been building national security for hundreds of years until now.”

The monarchist monk declared:

We call for this New York-based organization and U.S. Embassy officers to stop intervening in our domestic affair and apologize to the Thai people for disrespecting our dignity by insulting our king…. And we, the Thai people, hope the ambassador and U.S. government will prioritize this issue.

He is confused, thinking he speaks for “the Thai people,” and seems to consider discussion of feudal laws like the lese majeste statute to be defining of a “people.” These would be odd utterances and beliefs anywhere except when oozing from the mad monarchists in Thailand.

This royalist was joined by ultra-royalists, led by Rientong Nan-nah, who want to lock up anyone with views different from their own warped beliefs.

HRW on Prayuth at the UN

23 09 2015

Human Rights Watch has released a call for General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the self-appointed prime minister of Thailand, known to PPT readers as The Dictator, to be held accountable.

We agree. He should be held accountable for his illegal act of throwing out an elected government, for his human rights abuses, for the murder of red shirt protesters, for jailing political opponents and for his callous use of Article 44 and the draconian lese majeste law.

We disagree with HRW that he should be urged to “quickly restore democratic civilian rule…”. Even if he does this, it would be a sham restoration. The military dictatorship is creating law and circumstances that mean that civilian rule will change little. Rather, the Thai people need to reject military rule, throw out the dictators and establish their own constitutional rule.

Here’s the HRW statement:

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.

World leaders should not tread lightly in broaching Thailand’s rights violations with General Prayut. 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.

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.”

The 2010 lie

6 08 2015

Human Rights Watch has identified that the military dictatorship is still trying to “cover-up abuses committed by soldiers during the 2010 political violence and prosecute all sides responsible for rights violations…”.

No one expected that the military would ever do anything else, so we are a bit puzzled by the HRW announcement. After all, the military never admits its corporate guilt. From the very time of the murderous events of 2010, the military brass, including the current self-appointed premier, have done nothing but lie, obfuscate and cover up.

Nothing is particularly new now. These liars are simply repeating the lies!

The events that seem to have motivated the new concern from HRW is media reports that “soldiers have claimed in the long delayed investigation by the Justice Ministry’s Department of Special Investigation (DSI) that rubber bullets were chiefly used during the crackdown on street protests in 2010.”  PPT commented previously on such fabrications.

As HRW notes, this claim “first became public when the DSI questioned military snipers in August 2012.”

Snipers don’t use rubber bullets, and as HRW points out that “[o]verwhelming evidence, including post mortems uncovering high velocity bullets, concluded that civilians were struck by live ammunition.”

HRW states:

For the army to pretend the many people who had bullets pulled out of their bodies were hit only by rubber bullets is a preposterous attempt at rewriting history…. Despite overwhelming evidence that soldiers used excessive and unnecessary lethal force against protesters and others, to date not a single soldier has been held accountable for deaths or injuries during the crackdown.

In fact, in September 2012, the DSI had determined that the “military was culpable for 36 deaths.” Now the military dictatorship seems to be managing the DSI in order to cover up that culpability. HRW concludes:

The prospects for justice for victims of the 2010 violence appear bleaker than ever under the ruling military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order. The junta leader, Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, has said on many occasions that soldiers should not be condemned for the casualties during the 2010 political violence.

The junta clearly is not serious about using justice as a foundation for the rule of law or political reconciliation…. No one responsible for serious abuses during the 2010 violence – including soldiers and their commanders – should be allowed to escape from criminal accountability.

This will fall on deaf ears. The men running the country are responsible for many of the 2010 deaths. They ordered their men to murder.


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