Photo courtesy of Thai Lawyer For Human Rights
By WASAMON AUDJARINT,
UN welcomes move, wants other junta orders dropped
PRIME MINISTER Prayut Chan-o-cha insisted yesterday that security-related cases already being tried in military courts would not be transferred to civilian courts, despite calls from rights groups for his government to do this.
“My order has been clear – it must not be retroactive [and involve trials already underway],” Prayut said after the Cabinet meeting yesterday.
Prayut was referring to his order on Monday that ended Military Court jurisdiction over internal security offences and cases on sedition and lese majeste.
Normal civilian courts will now deal with such matters.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, one of the government’s top legal experts, said the transfer would only cause unnecessary complications as most cases in military courts had already made substantial progress. In some cases, more than 10 people had already testified, he said.
More than 1,800 people involved in 1,500 cases have appeared in military courts since the 2014 coup. About 1,000 cases have reportedly finished, but about 500 are still being heard.
Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya said the lifting of military jurisdiction over civilians was the result of people’s cooperation.
Minor security issues were caused only by the same old groups of people. As the majority had showed understanding and cooperation, the restrictions should be lessened, Paiboon said.
It was also for preparing the country for an election, he said.
Deputy Premier Prawit Wong-suwan said the junta’s order to curb the use of military courts could be overturned if things got out of control.
Rights defenders saw the move as a superficial development because currently civilian defendants still have to pursue lawsuits in the military courts.
“We are very encouraged by (the junta’s) decision,” said Laurent Meillan, acting representative of the United Nations Human Rights |Office for Southeast Asia.
“However, as the order is only applicable to new cases, we urge the Thai government to implement it retroactively to ensure all civilian trials take place in civilian courts.”
The US and UK embassies also welcomed the junta’s move, but urged the government to take further action to lift restrictions on civil liberties and allow all Thais to participate freely and openly in build a consensus on how the country should proceed.
Prayut said the order was based on the principle to “make people happier”. “It’s universal that wrongdoers are punished. Whatever’s making this country unhappy is against the law,” he said.
The foreign community surely understood the reasons behind his administration’s actions.
“The only thing is that I didn’t come from an election. My administration always respects international principles,” the PM said.
“I do this of the sake of our country and also for others so that they can come to invest [here],” he said.
It was necessary for military officials to also retain their policing power according to the NCPO’s Order no. 13/2559. The order was mentioned in Monday’s order – as remaining in effect, as well as the NCPO’s Order no 3/2558, which bans political gatherings of more than four people.
This power application was also noted by the OHCHR and rights watchdogs, who called on the junta to also repeal these two orders to ensure the rights situation in the Kingdom improves.
Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch’s Asia director, said Monday’s order could be intended for the military government to deflect international criticism at the UN Human Rights Council. The government is due to give an update on rights progress following the UNHRC’s Universal Periodic Review in May.
“No one should be fooled by the Thai junta’s sleight of hand just before the Human Rights Council begins meeting in Geneva,” Adams said.
“The decision will spare many Thai civilians the injustice of a military trial, but repressive military rule is still a reality in Thailand.”
The Internet Law Reform Dialogue or iLaw, said civilians should never have been tried in military courts in the first place.
Military judges lacked academic credentials.