Thailand’s Internal Security Act: risking the rule of law?

This ICJ report presents a comprehensive assessment of Thailand’s Internal Security Act (“ISA”) from the perspective of international law and standards.

The report is timely in that the ISA is increasingly being invoked to address a variety of potential security issues. Seven times in the second half of 2009 alone, Cabinet declared exceptional powers under the ISA to be in force – in four districts of Songkhlain response to the insurgency in the Deep South, and in other parts of the country to control or prevent anti-government demonstrations.

The increased use of the ISA raises important issues of human rights and democratic governance, especially given the current realities of political polarisation in the country. The Royal Thai Government is justified in enacting and enforcing laws to protect the security of its citizens. Indeed, this is one of the crucial responsibilities of any government. However, such security measures must be taken in compliance with the rule of law and international human rights obligations. Experience from around the world, including Southeast Asia, shows that these laws are often used to empower executive authority and security forces, suppress political opposition and undermine the rights of citizens. As a result, the ICJ is concerned about how Thailand intends to strike a balance between security and rights protection through the ISA.

The ICJ has reported that the ISA incorporates a number of significant improvements from previous draft versions of the law, and also recognises that the exceptional powers provided by the ISA are more limited in scope and less restrictive of rights than those under the Emergency Decree or Martial Law. The ICJ welcomes these important improvements that increase protection for rights established under domestic and international law.

At the same time, this report details a number of ongoing concerns with the legal framework established by the ISA. Recognising the Royal Thai Government’s obligation to provide security throughout the country, the ICJ does not advocate wholesale repeal of the ISA, but rather addresses specific problem areas within the Act and proposes amendments and safeguards in accordance with Thailand’s international law commitments.

The ICJ has three primary concerns:

  • that many definitions and provisions are vague and overbroad, potentially criminalising a wide range of behaviours that pose no security threat;
  • that fundamental rights are at risk of being violated, especially related to liberty and security of the person, fair trial and due process, and freedom of movement, association and expression; and,
  • that sweeping powers granted to security forces risk undermining the principle of civilian authority that is at the heart of democratic governance.

Thailand-Internal-Security-Act-thematic-report-2010-ENG (full text in English, PDF)

Thailand-Internal-Security-Act-thematic-report-2010-THA (full text in Thai, PDF)

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