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Thailand: Break Silence On Rights Ahead Elections

Thailand: Break Silence on Rights Ahead of Elections

In the run-up to Thailand's general elections, political parties and candidates have failed to make human rights a campaign issue despite the country's many pressing rights concerns, Human Rights Watch said today. The elections are scheduled for December 23.

"It's not a matter of human rights taking a backseat in the Thai elections, they are simply not even present," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "This pivotal election makes it more critical than ever for Thai political parties to put forward an agenda for ending abuses and impunity."

Human rights in Thailand have eroded steadily as a result of repressive policies by the government of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (2001-2006) and the military junta in place since the September 2006 coup. Thousands of extrajudicial killings connected to the government's anti-drugs and counterinsurgency operations remain unresolved. Human rights defenders have been murdered and "disappeared" without a single successful prosecution of the perpetrators.

In the restive southern border provinces, the government's continuing failure to uphold justice - despite clear evidence of official involvement in abuses in the Krue Se and Tak Bai incidents - now is the main justification given by separatist militants for violent attacks, which have claimed nearly 3,000 lives over the past four years. Government interference in media has led to censorship in many newsrooms, both enforced and self-imposed, which helps keep reports of abuses by the security forces from public discussion and scrutiny.

"While speaking about the need for political reform, parties have failed miserably to present any plan on how to reverse the continuing attacks on basic rights, especially the proposed new internal security law that would make elections meaningless," said Adams.

The military junta in place since the coup, now called the Council for National Security (CNS), has sought to establish itself as the foremost governing body in Thailand at the expense of civilian administration. One example of this is a new bill on national security, the Draft Act on the Maintenance of National Security in the Kingdom, which passed its first parliamentary reading with 101 to 20 votes on November 11, and now is being reviewed for the second and third readings.

If enacted, this law would give the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) - under the control of the prime minister - extensive emergency-style powers to restrict fundamental rights and override civilian administration and due process of law in parts of Thailand or the whole country at any time. No declaration of a state of emergency, or accountability to the parliament and the courts, would be required. In practice, this law would enable the military to dictate government policy easily and silently, and would also shield from prosecution those who violate human rights under its provisions.

During the lead-up to a constitutional referendum in August, Thai authorities used martial law to justify the repression of Thaksin's political allies and others opposed to the coup. Their houses were raided, political campaign material confiscated, and some were detained in military facilities.

This crackdown has continued in the run-up to general elections. Martial law is still in effect in 31 provinces. Most of those areas are Thaksin strongholds in the north and northeast, where people voted against the junta-sponsored constitution. Under martial law, the military can ban political gatherings, censor the media, and detain people without charge. The military junta's most blatant attempt to prevent Thaksin and Thai Rak Thai Party from resurfacing can be seen in the CNS memo dated September 14, authorized by then-CNS chair General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, detailing various operations to discredit Thai Rak Thai's reincarnation called People Power Party.

"The military's efforts to restrict the campaign activities of Thaksin's allies should be of concern to all of Thailand's political parties," said Adams. "Unfortunately, they aren't speaking out."

Many key governmental institutions - such as the National Legislative Assembly, the Constitutional Tribunal, and the Election Commission - have also become tools of military rule to remove Thaksin's influence. Not only was Thaksin's powerful Thai Rak Thai Party dissolved by the Constitutional Tribunal in May, but also all 111 party executives (including Thaksin) had their election rights revoked and have been banned from politics for five years. The Election Commission further interpreted that banned politicians cannot actively help any candidate or political party in the upcoming elections. The commission is now investigating the distribution and showing of video compact discs of Thaksin urging voters to support the People Power Party, which could possibly lead to its dissolution.

"Not only are human rights missing from the parties' domestic agendas, they are absent from their foreign policy platforms as well," said Adams.

Political parties did not react when General Sonthi as acting deputy prime minister made Thailand the first country to publicly defend the brutal crackdown on monks and peaceful protesters by Burma's State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in September. Despite international condemnation of the events in Burma, General Sonthi went to meet Burmese leader General Than Shwe, who expressed the SPDC's satisfaction with Thailand's Burma policy.

Thailand is Burma's biggest trading partner, particularly in the petroleum sector, providing US$2.16 billion in revenue directly to the Burmese government in 2006. It is also Burma's key diplomatic protector in ASEAN and other international forums.

"If Thailand's political parties really see the December elections as a transit point toward democracy, they should present concrete foreign policy proposals to end Thailand's embarrassing ties with Burma's generals," said Adams. "Thailand will need to look beyond its own trade and investment in developing its relationship with Burma."


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