THAILAND: Three months of hypocrisy

Asian Human
Rights Commission – Statement


December 18, 2006

A policeman in the south of Thailand
speaking confidentially one day to a human rights defender explained
how he gets assigned to kill people. The superior officers do not give
direct orders. Rather, they may call him to an informal meeting after
work, and share some drinks. They bring him into their confidence, and
treat him as peer and a friend, rather than as a subordinate. During
the discussion, the name of the targeted person comes up. The senior
officers agree that “it would be better if he (or she) were not
around”. The junior officer gets the message, and someone dies.

December 14, the interim prime minister of Thailand, General Surayud
Chulanont, called the senior news editors of the country to a meeting.
He also did not give any direct orders. Rather, he invited them for
lunch and brought them into his confidence, expressing concern about
the challenges lying in the year ahead. During his speech, he urged
them to recognise the importance of their role: the need to report
“accurate” information and avoid leading the country to the wrong
choices. Presumably, the editors got the message, and with any luck all
of those “inaccurate” reports will get killed off too.

heads committed to free opinion do not presume to lecture the news
media on their job. They just let them do it. However nicely he may
have gone about it, General Surayud’s lunchtime chat was indicative of
the hypocrisy with which Thailand has been governed since the September
19 military coup. His gentle exhortations, while inviting criticism of
the government, are evocative of those from the regime in neighbouring
Burma, which also calls meetings of writers and publishers to remind
them of their duties to the nation and the need to avoid spreading

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has
consistently maintained that the 2006 coup was an unmitigated disaster
for human rights, the rule of law and democracy in Thailand. On the eve
of the third month marking the takeover, it reiterates this position
and summarises some key features of government in Thailand during that
time as follows.

HYPOCRISY: Judges are entitled to make decisions that fit with our agenda
military regime has from the start claimed that it would ensure the
independence of the courts, and had the same written into its interim
constitution, while simultaneously completely undermining their
authority and propelling them back to a diminished pre-1997 status. The
Constitutional Tribunal tacked together under its instructions in lieu
of the court of the same mandate that it disbanded has been assigned
the task of going after the political parties accused of having made a
mess of the country. Most recently, coup leader General Sonthi
Boonyaratglin was reported as having said that the former prime
minister, if called to speak before the tribunal on the proposed
dissolution of his own party should be the last witness. He suggested a
number of criteria that should be used to determine the circumstances
of his testimony while adding, perhaps as an afterthought, that the
judges are the ones entitled to make this decision. Meanwhile, lower
courts have been writing the 1997 Constitution out of judgments
prepared before September 19, perhaps keen to avoid any confusion that
may jeopardise their future careers in a “reformed” Thailand.

HYPOCRISY: No one can abuse power except us
the reasons that the coup group has iterated to justify its takeover is
that the former government was irreversibly corrupt, self-interested
and abusive of power. Since the military regime took control it has
demonstrated its comparative selflessness by removing all of the
persons connected to the former government from power and putting its
own people in their stead; granting large monthly pay checks to its
members and appointees, and ordering an enormous increase in the
military budget. Its interim prime minister and others have on the one
hand proposed the decentralisation of police power on the pretext of
reform while simultaneously General Sonthi has ordered the
recentralisation of special investigative power under the Internal
Security Operations Command, a counterinsurgency relic from the cold
war. This last move bodes especially ill for semi-autonomous
investigating agencies set up under the 1997 Constitution, such as the
Department of Special Investigation, which has already had enormous
trouble maintaining its independence from within the Ministry of

HYPOCRISY: We’ll get tough on human rights cases that don’t involve our people
interim government has proposed to reopen many grave human rights cases
left unresolved by the former administration. Among these are inquiries
into some 2500 persons killed during the “war on drugs” in 2003 and
high-profile killings and disappearances, such as the abduction of
human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit. General Surayud has also
apologised to people in the south for the Tak Bai and Krue Se mass
killings of 2004, and for the excessively violent and provocative
policies of the previous government. However, he has not so far
mentioned what action will be taken to bring the army officers
responsible for the 78 deaths in their custody at Tak Bai to justice,
not to mention the seven other persons killed in the operation outside
the district police station. And what of Krue Se, in which three army
officers have been identified as having the primary responsibility for
the deaths of 28 persons inside the mosque there? What is the
likelihood of bringing them, including General Pallop Pinmanee, into
the dock any time soon? Or what about the numerous instances of
killings, abductions, torture and other gross abuses in the south of
Thailand in which the armed forces will have been implicated? Will the
rhetorical commitments to addressing problems of justice and human
rights in the south be extended as far as criminal liability? If not,
what meaning do they have? And will the coup group lift the emergency
decree over the three southern provinces–which a UN expert has
described as allowing soldiers and police “to get away with
murder”–any time soon?

HYPOCRISY: Everyone is free to share an opinion that does not contradict us
military regime from the start claimed that its illegal acts have been
done on behalf of the King, albeit not with his prior knowledge.
“Nobody knows what the line is between the monarch and the interim
government,” a recent Reuters report quoted one journalist as having
said. This makes the free giving of opinion about the coup leaders in
Thailand extremely precarious, as it risks the prospect of being hit by
antiquated and severe lese majeste laws. Meanwhile, the junta continues
to undertake concerted efforts to thwart organisers of anti-coup
rallies. Persons attempting to come from provincial areas for a
demonstration in Bangkok on December 10 were detained and forced to
return home, while others never even set off after being told that they
would not be allowed to reach the capital. And as martial law remains
in effect across roughly half of the country, soldiers and police do
not require any special powers of persuasion to waylay incipient
protestors and send them back from where they have come before they do
something that may perhaps lead to “inaccurate choices”.

HYPOCRISY: We encourage people to participate freely in our rigged constitution-writing process
military regime has consistently expressed enthusiasm for the
principles of the country’s first truly popular and democratic
constitution which it had the honour of ripping up, while at the same
time working hard to return the country to a 1980s model of management
by conservative bureaucrats who will not rock the army’s boat. Its
staged-managed national assembly is trundling along, as is the
unnecessarily complicated business of it selecting persons to write a
new “permanent” constitution. The interim prime minister is encouraging
ordinary folks to get involved in constitutional affairs, but for what
purpose? The interim constitution does not admit them any role in
writing the new charter other than by way of a passing remark that once
the drafters are finished with their work they “shall
disseminate/publicize the Draft Constitution and the explanatory note
as per paragraph 1 above to the public as well as promote and organize
public hearings”. There too, no purpose is given for the making of
publicity and holding of public hearings.

The Asian Human
Rights Commission recently received a letter from the Office of the
Attorney General of Thailand concerning four former government
ministers who had been detained without charge by the coup group in the
first days after September 19. The letter was in response to an appeal
sent on their behalf. In it, the office wrote that

“We would like
to inform you that we understand your anxiety, but your complaint
mentioned above concerns the Coup d’Etat by the Council for Democratic
Reform, which is not related to the authorities and functions of [the]
Office of the Attorney General.”

The Office of the Attorney
General has in its letter inadvertently described the situation across
the whole of Thailand today. Ordinary private citizens, judges, petty
functionaries and all other persons outside the circle of power defined
by the coup group and its confidants have been forced back into an
historical role as spectators of the national stage. They have been
given permission to applaud, or even cough politely or boo occasionally
if they do not like what they see, but they are no longer entitled to
participate: generals and their sidekicks are the actors today. And
this is after all the true meaning of hypocrisy: the acting of a
theatrical part; at which, it should be added, the current regime in
Thailand seems particularly adept.

# # #

About AHRC:
The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental
organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The
Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Posted on 2006-12-18

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