The FCO's Human Rights Work 2010-11 - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents


Written evidence from Amsterdam & Peroff LLP on behalf of the National United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD)

1.  EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

1.1  The past several years have witnessed a systematic assault on the fundamental rights to self-determination and freedom of expression for the citizens of Thailand. As the elections (currently scheduled for Summer this year) approach, Thailand faces increasing levels of political unrest, a situation that is exacerbated by the deadly violence on the Thai-Cambodian border. The importance of impartial international scrutiny at the time of this submission cannot be overstated.

1.2  The campaign started with the 2006 coup, when Thai generals overthrew the country's democratic constitution for the purpose of obliterating the ruling political party. This campaign continued after the country was formally returned to civilian rule. 215 former party executives were stripped of their civil and political rights by virtue of their association with the disbanded Thai Rak Thai and People Power Party. This is in direct contrast to Article 20 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. The Abhisit administration has, since 2008, persecuted opponents through repressive legislation and censored virtually every source of alternative information. The net result has been to severely curtail the free discussion, debate and criticism of state institutions that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is meant to protect.

1.3  Of an altogether more serious nature is the reckless violence and extra-judicial executions that the Abhisit administration has unleashed against its opponents under the guise of the Internal Security Act (which remains in force to this day.) In crushing United National Front For Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD or "Red Shirts") demonstrators, basic crowd control principles were ignored and little care was taken to "minimize the risk of endangering uninvolved persons", as outlined in the "United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Fire Arms by Law Enforcement Officers." The actions and tactics of the Royal Thai Army resulted in 91, largely civilian, casualties, and drew unanimous condemnation by international human rights organisations. In the wake of the authority's crackdowns, hundreds of protestors were detained (some in secret locations) for violating the emergency decree. Multiple reports, including one from the National Human Rights Commission, a governmental organisation frequently criticised for its pro-establishment bias, have emerged attesting to the Royal Thai Army's habitual recourse to the torture of detainees. Disturbingly, a series of local Red Shirt activists have turned up dead, in unexplained circumstances.

1.4 While evidence collected by various independent sources suggests that the Royal Thai Government and Army are responsible for a series of human rights violations, possible crimes against humanity, and a systematic campaign of political persecution, there has been nothing in the steps that the Royal Thai Government has taken since the dispersal of the Red Shirt rallies last May (2010) that suggests that a serious, independent inquiry is forthcoming. Given Thailand's strategic importance and its historically close relationship with the United Kingdom and NATO, it is hoped that future FCO reports might do more to highlight the deplorable state of Thailand's democracy and civil liberties, perhaps to the point of inclusion as a "Country of Concern."

2.  INTRODUCTION

2.1  This report is submitted on behalf of Thailand's National United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD, or "Red Shirts"). As the largest movement for democracy in the history of Thailand, since 2008 the "Red Shirts" have repeatedly mobilized tens of thousands of people in large street demonstrations, some of which were repressed brutally by the Thai authorities in April 2009 and April-May 2010. In large part to silence the Red Shirts, moreover, the administration of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (in office since December 2008) has systematically had recourse to repressive measures resulting in the destruction of democracy in Thailand. This report provides information pertaining to the state of human rights and democracy in Thailand—particularly in regards to violations of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) committed by the Royal Thai Government against the UDD-led pro-democracy movement since the military coup of 19 September 2006.

2.2  While the report on "Human Rights and Democracy" issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2010 only contains a single reference to the state of democracy and human rights in Thailand (condemning the censorship of opposition media), it is hoped that future reports might do more to highlight the deplorable state in which Thailand's democracy finds itself, perhaps to the point of inclusion as a "Country of Concern." Given Thailand's strategic importance and its historically close relationship with the United Kingdom and NATO, international pressure by Western nations would go a long way towards promoting the "British values" that are the subject of the FCO report in a country where liberal democracy is now in a state of disrepair.

3.  INFORMATION RELEVANT TO THE FCO REPORT

3.1  For over four years, the people of Thailand have suffered a systematic and unrelenting assault on their most fundamental right—the right to self-determination through genuine elections based on the will of the people. The assault against democracy was launched with the execution of a military coup d'état in 2006. In collaboration with members of the Privy Council, Thai military generals overthrew the popularly elected, democratic government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose Thai Rak Thai party had won three consecutive national elections in 2001, 2005 and 2006. The restoration of Thailand's ancien régime entailed first and foremost the annihilation of Thai Rak Thai, an electoral force that had come to present a major, historical challenge to the power of old moneyed elites, military generals, high-ranking civil servants, and royal advisors. Subsequently, it required that Thailand's conservative establishment stop at nothing to extirpate the movement for democracy that emerged as a result. In the process, several of the basic rights sanctioned in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the ICCPR were systematically undermined or curtailed.

3.2  The past several years have witnessed a sustained attack on freedom of association. The campaign started with the 2006 coup, when Thai generals seized the state and overthrew the country's democratic constitution for the purpose of obliterating the ruling political party. Based on a retroactive statute introduced after the coup, a junta-appointed Constitutional Tribunal dissolved Thai Rak Thai in May 2007. The 111 members of Thai Rak Thai's executive committee were banned from voting and from seeking elected office for a period of five years.

3.3  The campaign continued after the country was formally returned to civilian rule. The 2007 Constitution imposed by the generals enshrined into law the right of the courts to intervene in the country's politics by ordering the disbandment of lawfully registered political parties and by stripping the executives of such parties (even those who were not found guilty of any offenses) of their right to hold public office. Section 237 of the 2007 Constitution, written at the junta's insistence, gave the Constitutional Court the option to dissolve any party whose executive committee includes at least one politician found guilty of fraud by the Election Commission of Thailand. Concurrent with the dissolution of a political party, the Constitutional Court may also ban the party's entire executive committee from politics.

3.4  Freedom House has noted that the elections held on 23 December 2007—the first and to date the only post-coup general elections—were not "free and fair," as "[the junta] maintained tight control over the electoral process and deliberately maneuvered to influence the outcome."[28] In spite of overwhelming opposition, the People Power Party—the successor of the now defunct Thai Rak Thai—managed to form a coalition government after winning a plurality of lower house seats. Less than a year later, however, the PPP-led coalition collapsed when the Constitutional Court (consisting of judges hand-picked by the junta) dissolved the PPP as well as two other governing parties (Chart Thai and Matchima Thippathai).

3.5  While a total of 215 former party executives were stripped of their right to vote and stand for election as a result of the court-ordered dissolution of Thai Rak Thai, the People Power Party, Chart Thai, and Matchima Thippathai, it should be noted that only a fraction were ever even accused of any wrongdoing. More than two hundred of them were deprived of their civil and political rights just by virtue of their association with the parties in question. In and of themselves, these rules represent violations of several individual rights sanctioned in the ICCPR—the right to "take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives" (Article 25) and the right to "to freedom of association with others" (Article 22)—as well as Article 20 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. It matters little that a military junta managed to write the provisions into the Constitution. These provisions stand in direct contrast to the treaty obligations Thailand has freely contracted. The notion of "collective guilt," in particular, cannot be the basis for the dissolution of an entire political party that represents millions of members and in some instances the electoral choices of more than ten million voters. Nor should a sitting parliamentarian (or indeed any citizen) be deprived of his/her political rights based on infractions committed by others without his/her knowledge.

3.6  After coming to power in December 2008, thanks to a Constitutional Court decision that gutted the House of Representatives and effectively overturned the result of the election held a year earlier, the Abhisit administration has systematically stifled freedom of expression. It has done so by:

(a)  Persecuting opponents through repressive legislation such as Thailand's draconian lèse-majesté laws and the Computer Crimes Act, which has resulted in hundreds of arrests. The year 2009 saw a record number of prosecutions for crimes of conscience.[29]

(b)  Censoring virtually every source of alternative information, including the opposition's TV station, dozens of community radios, and as many as 400,000 websites that were blocked or shut down by the authorities.

3.7  Once again, it makes little difference that the arrests and the censorship are grounded in laws like the Computer Crimes Act and Article 112 of the Criminal Code. Those laws themselves constitute illegal restrictions placed on the Thai people's right to free expression and their freedom to "seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds" (Article 19 of the ICCPR). While, moreover, government officials have often justified these restrictions based on the need to protect national security (something the ICCPR explicitly provides for), there exists no rational argument in support of the case that a speech containing statements critical of the monarchy has an effect on public order and morals worthy of a eighteen-year prison sentence, of the kind handed down against opposition activist Darunee Charnchoensilpakul. This, in fact, is precisely the kind of expression that the ICCPR is meant to protect—the freedom to criticize the institutions of the state.

3.8  Of an altogether more serious nature is the campaign of violence and extra-judicial executions that the Abhisit administration has unleashed against its opponents, chiefly among them the "Red Shirts" of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD).

3.9  Beginning in March 2010, massive demonstrations were staged in Bangkok to protest the destruction of Thailand's democracy. For the next two months, the Red Shirts remained holed up behind barricaded encampments built in locations of strategic and symbolic significance in the heart of Bangkok, demanding new elections and a dissolution of what they perceived to be the illegal, military-backed government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

3.10  Faced with demands for its immediate resignations, the Abhisit administration suspended most of the civil liberties and political rights the Thai people are formally guaranteed by the 2007 Constitution. Before the Red Shirts even set foot in Bangkok, Abhisit imposed the Internal Security Act (which remains in force to this day, more than a year later). In addition, though the rallies had been overwhelmingly peaceful up to that point, by the second week of April the government had resolved to crush the Red Shirts. In preparation for the crackdown, the government declared the State of Emergency, which was not lifted until late December 2010.

3.11  It should be noted that the prolonged enforcement of the Internal Security Act and the Emergency Decree itself constitute a violation of the ICCPR. Article 4 does permit the suspension of certain ICCPR rights, such as the right to demonstrate, but only in instances where a public emergency "threatens the life of the nation" and only "to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation"—in any event, under no circumstances can a State of Emergency be used to "undermine the rule of law or democratic institutions." According to the International Commission of Jurists, Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, Amnesty International, and virtually every other human rights organization around the world, the Thai government's continued recourse to emergency powers fails this crucial test.

3.12  The imposition of the Emergency Decree provided the government with the legal foundation upon which it based the crackdowns of the Red Shirts on 10 April and 13-19 May 2010. A total of ninety-one people were killed and around two thousand injured in the six weeks leading up to the dispersal of the rallies on 19 May. Hundreds of eyewitness accounts and thousands of video clips have documented the systematic use of live fire by the security forces against unarmed civilians—including journalists and emergency medical personnel.

3.13  In crushing the Red Shirts, the Abhisit administration and Royal Thai Army appear to have ignored crowd control principles altogether. Contrary to the standards outlined in the "United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Fire Arms by Law Enforcement Officials," the dispersal operations made little use of "non-lethal incapacitating weapons." Little care was taken to "minimize the risk of endangering uninvolved persons" and to "preserve human life." The shoot-to-kill policy for demonstrators burning tires and setting off firecrackers was not undertaken "in proportion to the seriousness of the offense." Attacks on medical workers were not ordered in the interest of ensuring that "assistance and medical aid are rendered to any injured or affected persons at the earliest possible moment." Even if the Red Shirts demonstrations could be regarded as "violent" and "unlawful"—if only because the State of Emergency declared them to be illegal—expert testimony and the wealth of eyewitness accounts that emerged from the government's "live fire zones" strongly suggests that the use of force was not limited to the "minimum extent necessary." Indeed, the testimony suggests that many of the victims were murdered solely as part of a campaign to suppress evidence that might incriminate the Army and the Thai Government.

3.14  Major international human rights organizations have offered unanimous condemnation of the 2010 crackdowns. On May 15, 2010, Human Rights Watch called on the government to revoke the "live fire zones" and slammed the administration for failing to abide by the "United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Fire Arms by Law Enforcement Officials."[30] A few days thereafter, Amnesty International called on the government to "halt the reckless use of lethal force."[31] Some time after the rallies were dispersed, organizations like Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the International Crisis Group (ICG) issued detailed reports that sharply condemned the indiscriminate killings committed by the Thai armed forces. Reporters Without Borders denounced the government for giving the Royal Thai Army a "license to kill" Red Shirt demonstrators, and accused the Royal Thai Army of "taking advantage of Emergency Decree to 'run roughshod' over international law and Thai legislation protecting civilians."[32]

3.15  In the wake of the crackdown, hundreds of protesters were mopped up and detained (some in secret locations) for violating the emergency decree. Most of those arrested by the authorities were denied their due process rights.[33] Since the end of the demonstrations, moreover, multiple reports have emerged attesting to the Royal Thai Government's habitual recourse to the torture of detainees—both as a punitive measure and as an instrument to coerce prisoners into furnishing confessions. Even the National Human Rights Commission, a governmental body frequently criticized for its conservative, pro-establishment bias, has issued a report denouncing that "Red Shirt detainees are being tortured, forced to confess to crimes and jailed without any chance to defend themselves."[34] Disturbingly, a series of local Red Shirt activists have turned up dead, in mysterious circumstances, in the provinces of Chiang Mai, Chonburi, Korat, and Pathum Thani.

3.16  The Universal Declaration on Human Rights as well as the ICCPR guarantee that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his or her life. Such documents also guarantee, among other things, the right to be free from torture, cruel or degrading treatment, and arbitrary detention. The ICCPR, moreover, obligates Thailand to hold a complete and fair investigation conducted by "independent and impartial bodies" resulting in the prosecution of those responsible. Recently, the United Nations General Assembly reiterated the obligation of all states, in suspected cases of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, "to identify and bring to justice those responsible […] and to adopt all necessary measures, including legal and judicial measures, to put an end to impunity and to prevent the further occurrence of such executions."[35] Thailand's failure to properly investigate the killings potentially amounts to a separate violation of the ICCPR.

3.17  While evidence collected by various independent sources suggests that the Royal Thai Government and the Royal Thai Army are responsible for a series of human rights violations, possible crimes against humanity, and a systematic campaign of political persecution, nothing in the steps that the Royal Thai Government has taken since the dispersal of the Red Shirt rallies suggests that a serious, independent inquiry is forthcoming. While the Abhisit administration has outwardly acknowledged the need for an investigation into the abuses committed in April and May 2010, the measures it has taken in the months since the carnage are rather more indicative of a cover-up. The inquiries launched by the Royal Thai Government are plagued by unjustifiable delay as well as a complete lack of independence and impartiality. As initially suspected, it is now apparent that the main objective of the proceedings is to shield those involved from criminal responsibility. This is in keeping with previous massacres of pro-democracy demonstrators perpetrated in 1973, 1976, and 1992, for which no state official has ever been held accountable.

3.18  In January 2011, Amsterdam & Peroff formally submitted on behalf of the UDD an Application to investigate the situation of the Kingdom of Thailand to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Application establishes a reasonable basis to believe that the Royal Thai Government is responsible for the commission of crimes against humanity, including murder, political persecution, arbitrary imprisonment and other severe deprivation of physical liberty. Because these offenses constitute clear violations of the ICCPR and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the evidence presented to the ICC should also be germane to the activities of the Foreign Affairs Committee.[36]

4.  RECOMMENDATIONS/RELIEF SOUGHT

4.1  Based on the evidence presented in this report, as well as the vast body of evidence that speaks to the deteriorating situation in Thailand with regard to human rights and democracy, it is recommended that future reports issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the worldwide state of human rights and democracy address the omission of the Thai case. Whereas the section in the FCO report that discusses human rights in specific "countries of concern" is reserved for countries governed by the most repressive autocracies responsible for human rights violations of the worst kind, based on the assessment of several international organizations Thailand's democracy does not fare much better than Belarus, Russia, or Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, Thailand's historically undistinguished human rights record has gone from deficient to outright disastrous since the 2006 coup. As such, whether or not Thailand is singled out as a "country of concern," it no doubt deserves greater scrutiny in subsequent FCO reports.

4.2  More broadly, this report recommends that:

—  The British Government conduct a hearing on democracy in Thailand.

—  A detailed independent international investigation be conducted into the circumstances surrounding the ninety-one, largely civilian, deaths and two thousand injured protestors in the six weeks leading up to the dispersal of the rallies on 19 May 2010.

—  The installation of domestic, regional, and international monitors and a well-publicised electoral code of conduct to minimise the risk of violence, third-party intervention and enhancement of the credibility of the forthcoming elections.

—  The increase of funding for British NGOS operating in Thailand.

28 April 2011


28   Freedom House, "Freedom in the World, 2010 Edition," http://www.freedomhouse.org Back

29   Marwaan Macan-Markar, "Thailand: Lese Majeste Cases Rise but Public in the Dark," Inter Press Service, 14 May 2010.
http://ipsnews.net/login.asp?redir=news.asp?idnews=51434 
Back

30   Human Rights Watch, "Thailand: Revoke 'Live Fire Zones' in Bangkok," 15 May 2010.
http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/05/15/thailand-revoke-live-fire-zones-bangkok  
Back

31   Amnesty International, "Thai Military Must Halt Reckless Use of Lethal Force," 18 May 2010.
http://www.amnestyusa.org/document.php?id=ENGNAU2010051816851&lang=e 
Back

32   Reporters Without Borders, "Thailand: Licence to Kill," July 2010.
http://en.rsf.org/IMG/pdf/REPORT_RSF_THAILAND_Eng.pdf 
Back

33   Human Rights Watch, "Thailand: Repeal the Emergency Decree," 24 November 2010.
http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/11/24/thailand-repeal-emergency-decree 
Back

34   See "Panel Claims Red Shirt Inmates Tortured," Bangkok Post, 7 December 2010.
http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/politics/210009/panel-claims-red-shirt-inmates-tortured 
Back

35   UN General Assembly Res. 63/182, 16 March 2009, par. 3. Back

36   The full text of the Application can be downloaded at:
http://robertamsterdam.com/thailand/?p=530. 
Back


 
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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 20 July 2011