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Thailand: Draft ISA a Step Backwards from Human Rights and Rule of Law

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The Thai military government must drop the draft Internal Security Act, as it would authorize the government officials to use excessive force, which could result in grave human rights violations such as extra-judicial executions, impunity, and widespread torture. If the act is passed, the security forces will be immune to accountability for criminal, civil, administrative, and code of conduct charges.
(Bangkok, 03 July 2007) FORUM-ASIA is deeply concerned with the Thai military government’s plan to pass the draft Internal Security Act (ISA). Late last month the draft ISA was given a green light by the cabinet under the interim General Surayud Chulanont government.

The draft ISA is currently in discussion among the members of the Council of State, the country’s legal advisory institution, before being submitted to the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) for further reviews. This bill is seeking to revive the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), a military-run organisation notorious for its hawkish and fear-inducing campaign against civilians to curb communism in 1970s. ISOC was responsible for many human rights abuses during that period.

“The bill is a regressive step back from bringing human rights and rule of law to the country, instead it is pushing the country into another age of military rule. This act will grant power to the ISOC – headed by the Army-in-Chief – over the power of the civilian government”, said Mr. Anselmo Lee, Executive Director, FORUM-ASIA.

Basic human rights such as the rights to freedom of movement, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association will be prohibited if this bill is passed. The bill also allows the Director of ISOC to arrest and detain people in private venues, but not proper venues such as police stations or internationally-accepted detention facilities, for more than seven days without an arrest warrant. This is a direct violation of the international human rights treaties to which Thailand is a party.

By holding persons at private venues without proper facilities, where lawyers, organisations inspecting prison conditions, families, and medical staff cannot access, the government is allowing the possibility of abuses, such as torture, to take place. Most significantly, Paragraph 2 of the Article 26 gives authority to the Director of ISOC and the government officers to “suppress individuals causing an action which may pose a threat to national security”.

The phrase ‘national security’ is often misused in reference to state-viewed securities as opposed to human security. Pro-democracy groups and groups that voice their dissent about the military-drafted constitution could mistakenly be seen by the military as a “threat to national security”.

The draft law also stresses that officials who use the authority in accordance with this act are “exempted from civil and criminal law or disciplinary actions”, raising concerns of impunity for increased or excessive use of force by the government officers. 

“Given the number of existing grave cases of impunity and human rights violations, which the security forces are believed to be involved in, including the 2,000 people killed during the war on drugs in 2003, the cases of torture and extra-judicial executions in Southern Thailand, and the impunity cases of more than 20 human rights defenders (HRDs) killed to date, the situation is likely to deteriorate once the bill is passed.” stressed Mr. Lee.

Thailand as party to the United Nations needs to uphold human rights obligations by prohibiting such laws from being passed. Experience from Malaysia and Singapore regarding similar legislations shows that similar laws only increase human rights violations and abuses. Interim Prime Minister Surayud, who has been vocal in his support of the ASEAN human rights mechanism, needs to understand that once this bill is passed the state human rights mechanisms, including the National Human Rights Commission, will be undermined. If the bill is thoroughly supported by the junta without recognising its consequences, the PM’s words will be just rhetoric without concrete concerns.

For more information, please contact:
Mr. Anselmo Lee, Executive Director, FORUM-ASIA, +662 391 8801,
[email protected]
Mr. Pokpong Lawansiri, Acting Southeast Asia Program Officer, FORUM-ASIA,
+6686 603 8844, [email protected]