Thailand: Lift martial law and return the country to civilian authority

Thailand must lift martial law and return the country to civilian rule, instead of invoking arbitrary powers under Article 44 of the country’s interim constitution, said the ICJ today.

Today, Prime Minister and head of the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), General Prayut Chan-o-cha, announced that he had submitted a revocation of the Martial Law, imposed nationwide on 20 May 2014, to King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Gen. Prayut stated that in place of Martial Law, he would invoke Article 44 of the Interim Constitution, which effectively gives him the authority to rule without any legal restrictions or accountability.

“Ending Martial Law is a necessary step, but replacing it with Article 44 does not address the serious violations of Thailand’s obligations under international human rights law. Article 44 of the Interim Constitution is drafted so broadly that it could give the head of the junta even greater powers than Martial law,” said Wilder Tayler, Secretary General of the ICJ. “Article 44 would allow the head of the NCPO to issue any orders he wishes under the pretext of strengthening public unity and national security, and also deems any such order to be legal and constitutional, removing any possibility of judicial oversight.”

Article 44 of the interim Constitution gives the NCPO power to give any order deemed necessary for “…the benefit of reform in any field and to strengthen public unity and harmony, or for the prevention, disruption or suppression of any act which undermines public peace and order or national security, the Monarchy, national economics or administration of State affairs …,” and provides that any such order “…is deemed to be legal, constitutional and conclusive…”

“Article 44 violates the fundamental pillars of the rule of law and human rights, including equality, accountability, and predictability. Article 44 could potentially allow for arbitrary rule by the head of the NCPO, so using it would not be a real improvement over the Martial Law, which at least has been in existence since 1914, and has a degree of clarity to its scope and application,” said Tayler.

“The NCPO should revoke Martial Law and also explicitly commit itself to observing Thailand’s international obligations, which means avoiding any use of Article 44,” he added.

International law strictly regulates attempts by governments to suspend or restrict protection for human rights on grounds of emergency.

Such “derogations” are permissible under Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a State Party, only “in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation”.

“The situation in Thailand does not meet the extremely high threshold required for derogating from international human rights law,” said Tayler. “Thai authorities have repeatedly promised a rapid return to the rule of law and respect for human rights in the country, but replacing Martial Law with rule by Article 44 doesn’t suggest an improvement for the rule of law or respect for human rights.”

Thailand-Martial Law-Article 44-News-Press release-2015-THA (Thai version, full text in PDF)

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