The symposium was organized to present six articles1 that described the significant changes to the courts, the coup and its relations to fundamental rights of people after the 2014 coup. The details of local administrative affairs, land grabbing, rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, the role of judiciary and military court were analyzed in accordance with the international human rights framework and domestic regulations, especially the Constitution. The primarily phenomenon revealed was that after the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) overthrew the civilian government’s power, there had been enormous changes in the local administrative structure. While the restrictions of rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly have been dramatically depressing, minority people have also encountered increasing law enforcement on land they occupy. The judiciary has always played an important role to recognize the coup through its controversial judgements. In addition, one of articles found that the military court was an organization that had been established and operated under coups since 1958 until the present.
With the strong support from the Canadian Embassy in Thailand along with the Academicians for Civil Rights Network and Thammasat University’s Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology, the symposium was created for people who were interesting in the issues mentioned above. At least 150 people participated in this event including professors, scholars, students, activists, politicians, media personnel, civil society activists, public officers, lawyers and judges. As a result, the constructive discussion based on various opinions and the findings of each article had been brought to the public. The details are as follows.
Local administrative affairs2
After the coup in 2014, the military government targeted and intervened in the local administrative structure in many ways. To illustrate, the ideal of decentralization in administrative power has been altered into a centralization concept, manipulated by the central government. Several orders and announcements were imposed into every branch of local administrative structure, such as the freezing of candidates to participate in the next local elections, appointing of government officials to be in charge as administrators for each local government office, and slashing of budgets. In addition, the independent organizations, such as the Office of Auditor General and the Office of the National Anti-Corruption Commission had been promoted to evaluate the local administrative expenditures and later issue orders that limit the local politicians’ duties for serving their communities.
The situation of imposing the NCPO’s announcements and its actions against land grabbing has brought thousands of cases into the court with at least 8,148 communities involved. This is the result of the military government’s national policy, which has aimed to stop illegal land grabs and extend the controlled areas of forest in Thailand. Some investors are being punished as land grabbers, however, the data points out that most of the alleged defenders are villagers who for many years lived and cultivated land in areas before those policies has been applied. Military officials and other law enforcement agencies have used several rigorous laws as tools to evict villagers from their lands. There has been no further progress to compensate villagers properly.
Rights to Freedom of Expression and Peaceful Assembly4
It is totally true to say that the restriction of rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly has resulted in huge human rights violations since the coup in 2014. The NCPO’s orders, along with the existing laws and new laws have been considered as political tools and have been utilized to attack opposition groups in both civilian and military courts. Before the NCPO Order No.55/2016 came into effect, all of the cases related to five categories of crimes prescribed in the NCPO’s announcement No. 37, No. 38 and No.51, respectively, had proceeded in military court. At the present, at least 2,408 individuals are still struggling in military court and their rights to fair trial are unrecognized and limited by the court’s structure. It should be noted that compared to cases with the same offences tried in civilian court, military courts were likely to sentence defenders with higher penalties than civilian courts. However, for Lese Majeste offence, whether the military court or civilian court took responsibility for those cases, offenders were always sentenced with at least 2 years and 6 months in jail.
The Role of Judiciary5
The judiciary and courts are expected to play an important role to examine the legitimacy of military intervention in the coup of 2014. In contrast, the success of the coup and the prolonged military government with its national strategy are showing the passive role of Thai Courts in relation to affirm people’s basic liberties. The latest verdict has acknowledged the junta power even though it had not yet been endorsed by Royal Command.
The military court and its role have been existence in Thailand’s history since 1958 until the coup of 2014. However, since its jurisdiction extends to prosecute civilians who committed certain crimes ruled by the NCPO, the military court was being identified as the organ of the junta to suppress opponents in various groups. Data available has revealed that, in the past, a prisoner was punished with the death penalty after he was brought to military court for a month. Furthermore, there were countless detainees faced with prolonged detention in many cells and their rights to fair trial were extremely restricted perceived. At present at least 1892 cases are still being undertaken by military court. Unfortunately, while defendants have been fighting for their right to presumption of innocence, several people gave up and pleaded guilty due to delayed trial.
Associate Prof. Somchai Preechasinlapakun, legal scholar and lecturer of Chiang Mai University, had finally presented findings that had been extracted from the six article’s contents. This finding could be explained to public in several questions: Who are their targets? What exactly is the work of the NCPO? How do their laws and their orders or announcements affect us? And, What kind of legal inheritance will be passed on to us?
While laws have served as tools to operate the NCPO mission in order to “return happiness to Thai society”, its results also have affected to the government’s structure and basic rights of the people. The local administrators, villagers who lived in land grabbing areas, and several groups of people demanding human rights and democracy are marginalized and treated as opponents, not citizens. All of the orders and announcements that have been regulated as the NCPO’s laws are retained by the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand of 2017. Those laws have created a huge amount of human rights violations. This is due to the courts—civilian court, military court, administrative court, and constitutional court—seem to accept both the NCPO’s superiority and their actions. Therefore, we, as the effected people, not only encounter with the coup’s consequences, but our abilities are also undermined by the judiciary, when we initially demand government and state officials to guarantee their rights and liberties. As a result, Prof. Somchai Preechasinlapakun pointed out that long-term legal restoration action should be prioritized as part of the plan for democracy, which we all hope that it would be the right way to return real happiness to Thai society in the future.
1 Written by TLHR’s documentation officer and five academicians with the strong support from TLHR staff. The full version of the six articles will be released in May 2018