Thailand’s Draft Security Law a “Recipe for Rights Violations”
NEW YORK — A new law proposed in Thailand that would increase the power of the military over the civilian government, while granting civilian and military officials immunity from prosecution, is “a sure recipe for human rights violations,” Human Rights First said today.
Neil Hicks, Director of HRF’s Human Rights Defenders Program, said the government “should withdraw the current draft and ensure that any new security laws are developed in a participatory, democratic manner.”
On June 19, the military-appointed cabinet approved a draft internal security law that would significantly expand the powers of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC). This Cold War-era military body would be newly empowered to arrest, detain, and search anyone suspected of sabotage, terrorism, cross-border crime, violence, propaganda, or incitement with the intent to cause unrest or “damage to the security of the State.”
“If the Thai government is serious about a return to democracy, the last thing the country needs is a hastily-passed security law that endangers fundamental rights,” said Hicks. “Vastly increasing the powers of the military while weakening mechanisms to hold it accountable is a sure recipe for human rights violations.”
The draft law does not establish a clear role for civilian authorities to declare a national security emergency, giving broad powers to the ISOC on the vaguely-worded condition that “there appears to be an act which is a threat to the national security.” Furthermore the ISOC director is explicitly given “responsibility for commanding public servants,” potentially undermining civilian control of the military.
The ISOC was created in 1966 to fight a communist insurgency, but lost much of its influence after the repeal of an anti-communist law in 2001. The ISOC director, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, also serves as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and as head of the coup group known as the Council for National Security, which is pushing for the law’s adoption.
The ISOC would be authorized to prohibit gatherings, confine persons to their homes, and order the use of military force. The draft law would also empower the ISOC director to appoint officials with the power to arrest and detain anyone considered a threat to national security, to search individuals, vehicles, or residences, and to seize evidence. A warrant would be required for arrests, but detainees could be held without charge for up to 30 days, rather than the usual 48 hours.
The draft law encourages impunity by exempting those acting under the security law from civil, criminal, and even disciplinary actions “if performing functions honestly, in a non-discriminatory manner and within reason.”
“The law would create a parallel system for investigating, arresting, and detaining anyone suspected of a broad range of activities, undermining the human rights protections that Thailand has put in place over many years,” said Hicks. “To pass such a law at a time when Thailand is without a functioning democratic system or a permanent constitution is especially dangerous.”
Following cabinet approval on June 19, the draft was forwarded to the Council of State, a legal advisory body, for review before it goes to the National Legislative Assembly for debate. Following the coup, the Assembly remains an appointed body pending the ratification of a new constitution and elections planned for later this year.