Thailand: Human rights protections must be upheld

Following a military coup d’etat and the declaration of martial law in Thailand yesterday, Amnesty International has called for the military authorities to comply with Thailand's obligations under international human rights law.

The organisation expressed particular concern that the constitution has been rescinded, political gatherings have been banned, impositions announced on internet reporting and politicians detained.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“No one should be punished for the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association or assembly. Anyone taken into military custody should be charged promptly with a recognisable criminal offence, or released.”

Political gatherings of more than five people have been banned, with a penalty of six months imprisonment. Coup council leaders have also called on the media to "cover news truthfully and constructively in order to promote unity in the country", and requested that the Ministry of Telecommunications control or block the distribution of information through the internet that may affect the council's work.

Coup leaders are reported to have stated that Thaksin Shinawatra's Deputy Prime Minister, Chidchai Vanasatidya is in custody and that his Secretary General, Prommin Lertsuridej, has been “invited to stay” at army headquarters. Several others, including a cabinet member, are reported to have been detained or had their movement restricted.

Background

Thai military commanders seized power from the Thai government on 19 September 2006 and announced today that they will install a caretaker civilian administration within a fortnight. They also stated that they would draft a new constitution and hold elections within a year. Martial law has been declared, and Thailand's 1997 constitution abolished.

The coup leaders have announced that they will abide by UN and international standards in accordance with Thailand's obligations under the international conventions to which is party. Key obligations under international human rights law also include upholding the right to life, and the right not to be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under any circumstances. Arbitrary detention is prohibited. All detention should be subject to judicial control, and no one should be held incommunicado.

Following a military coup in February 1991, the military violently suppressed pro-democracy demonstrations in Bangkok in May 1992. At least 52 people were killed, hundreds injured, and more than 30 persons "disappeared". No one has been brought to justice for these violations, and the full account of inquiries into the incident has not been published.

Amnesty International’s key human rights concerns in Thailand include:

Summary justice in the ‘war on drugs’

Following the government-launched “war on drugs”, 2,245 people were reportedly killed between February and the end of April 2003. The government maintained that the vast majority of cases were of drug traffickers killing one another. They failed to hold impartial investigations, and many deaths were alleged to be unlawful.

Violence in the south

Violence is continuing in the Muslim-majority provinces in the far south, characterized by bombings, beheadings and "drive-by" shootings by armed groups of both civilians and members of the security forces. The armed groups responsible have not publicly stated their demands. The authorities' response to the violence has been marked by arbitrary detentions, reported "disappearances", torture and excessive use of lethal force. There has also been a lack of adequate investigations into both human rights abuses and killings, and a failure to prosecute state officials suspected of responsibility for human rights violations. The authorities have been given sweeping powers under an emergency decree to declare a state of emergency, censor the press, deny access to redress for victims of abuses, and hold detainees in informal places of detention.

Killings or Disappearances of human rights defenders

During the last five years 19 human rights defenders, including students, lawyers and academics, have been murdered or "disappeared", and there has been little substantial progress in state investigations into their killings. Human rights defenders have also been subjected to surveillance, harassment, and anonymous death threats. In June 2005, a Buddhist monk was hacked to death in Fang District, Chiang Mai Province, after he protested against attempts by land developers to encroach on land belonging to a Buddhist foundation. The authorities conducted an investigation, but no one has been brought to justice for his murder.

Torture and ill-treatment, the death penalty and prison conditions

Torture and ill-treatment continues to be reported, and around 1,000 people are under sentence of death; many of them held continuously in heavy metal shackles. Prison conditions are often harsh, and include extreme over-crowding, lack of adequate food, sanitation, and medical care.

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