On Thailand’s coup, international treaties and the neglect of human rightsBy Saksith Saiyasombut & Siam Voices Jul 03, 2014 9:30AM UTC
By Passau Watching Thailand
Since the coup on May 22, not much has been heard about the effects of the junta’s announcements and orders on international agreements Thailand has signed. Condemnations of the EU and the United States as well as media outcries focused mainly on calls to return quickly to democracy and minor sanctions.
Yet there is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a treaty on the initiative of the UN ratified by Thailand in 1996 and adopted as a law in 1997.
As the most recent coup only sacked the Constitution of 2007 but not the various codes of law (e.g. the penal code), the ICCPR is still intact and even Thailand’s new military government is bound to it.
The ICCPR guarantees, among others, every human the inherent right to life (Article 6); the right for effective remedy if one’s personal rights and freedom are violated (Article 2); the right not being subjected to torture cruelties, inhumanities or degrading treatments (Article 7 and 10); the right not being subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention (Article 14); and the right to freedom of speech (Article 19). These are all fundamentals based on the following considerations and recognitions:
- Considering that, in accordance with the principles proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world;
- Recognizing that these rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human person;
- Recognizing that, in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ideal of free human beings enjoying civil and political freedom and freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his civil and political rights, as well as his economic, social and cultural rights;
- Considering the obligation of States under the Charter of the United Nations to promote universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and freedoms.
Since the announcement of martial law and the coup, for the current situation in Thailand most relevant is Article 4 that stipulates:
1. In time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation and the existence of which is officially proclaimed, the States Parties to the present Covenant may take measures derogating from their obligations under the present Covenant to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation, provided that such measures are not inconsistent with their other obligations under international law and do not involve discrimination solely on the ground of race, colour, sex, language, religion or social origin.
2. No derogation from articles 6, 7, 8 (paragraphs I and 2), 11, 15, 16 and 18 may be made under this provision.
3. Any State Party to the present Covenant availing itself of the right of derogation shall immediately inform the other States Parties to the present Covenant, through the intermediary of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, of the provisions from which it has derogated and of the reasons by which it was actuated. A further communication shall be made, through the same intermediary, on the date on which it terminates such derogation.
According to Article 4, no matter if the situation before the coup could – by international standards – be regarded as public emergency or not, the coup leaders’ duty was to inform the UN which parts of the ICCPR they abrogated and why. Furthermore the junta had to state a specific timeframe as to how long such measures will last. As of this writing there is no information if the junta followed these duties or if the UN pursued the junta for a statement.
The ICCPR shows that Thailand cannot ignore international agreements, as even under the current special circumstances the ICCPR is still ratified and equal to laws of the Thai legal system. The ratification of the ICCPR expresses Thailand’s minimum guarantee of citizens’ and political rights. Should the UN demand a fixed timeframe from the junta for its future roadmap, it is not an interference with Thailand’s internal affairs. Instead it would remind Thailand of its international obligations.
But could the Junta just decide to pull out of the treaty? The answer is “No” as Amnesty International reports on North Korea’s attempt in 1997:
“In August the DPRK informed the UN that it had decided to withdraw from the ICCPR with immediate effect and to suspend its reporting to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The DPRK stated that it had taken these steps in protest against a resolution critical of the human rights situation in the DPRK adopted in August by the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. This resolution criticized in particular the DPRK’s failure to allow visits by human rights monitors and its failure to report in a timely manner to the UN Human Rights Committee on its implementation of the ICCPR. DPRK diplomats indicated that the DPRK viewed its withdrawal as a “defence” to protect its “sovereignty” and “dignity”, while stating that the DPRK would “do its best” to “protect” human rights in accordance with the provisions of the ICCPR. For over 10 years, the DPRK had failed to report on its implementation of the ICCPR to the UN Human Rights Committee, a body of independent experts monitoring the implementation of the ICCPR by States parties.
The DPRKS’s statement made it the first country ever to attempt to withdraw from the ICCPR or from any other UN human rights treaty. In October the UN Human Rights Committee, which has authority to interpret ICCPR provisions, stated that countries which had ratified the ICCPR could not denounce (withdraw from) it. The Committee noted that the ICCPR contained no provision regarding its termination and did not provide for denunciation or withdrawal. It added that the rights enshrined in the ICCPR belonged to the people living in the territory of the state party and that the drafters of the ICCPR “deliberately intended to exclude the possibility of denunciation” because the ICCPR “did not have a temporary character typical of treaties where a right of denunciation was deemed to be admitted”. By the end of the year, the DPRK had not reacted to the comments of the UN Human Rights Committee.”
The example of the ICCPR shows that the international community can and has to interfere with Thailand’s internal affairs. Just as Thailand cannot chose to seal itself totally off.
But it also shows that the Coup on May 22, 2014 was more than an open breach of the charter by amending it. It was also a silent breach of the legal system with a move back to the most primitive state of societies where only “might is right” counts.
In this context two questions should be raised:
1) How would a Thai court decide, if somebody filed a case against the Thai military’s breach of the ICCPR?
2) Could a court – if the Junta is found guilty of breaching ICCPR – nullify the military coup and therefore nullify all its following decisions, like the Nitirat group proposed backed in 2011 for the Coup 2006?
About the author:
”Passau Watching Thailand” is a German-language blog collective analyzing the political system and current events. It is institutionally independent, however maintained mostly by alumni, students and academics who are associated with the Universität Passau, Germany.