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Thailand: Freedom of Assembly is Essential to Democratic Development

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The military government needs to ensure freedom of assembly and refrain from using emergency regulations as a threat in order to instil fear in people who intend to join the 30 May demonstration.  Thailand must be aware of its status as party to the United Nations' International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which emphasises that the state has to protect and uphold the rights to freedom of assembly.

(Bangkok) FORUM-ASIA urged the Thai military government to ensure freedom of assembly rights for tomorrow’s demonstration in Sanam Luang, Bangkok. It also urged the Thai military government to refrain from threatening to use state of emergency provisions to instil fear in those who intend to join tomorrow’s demonstration.

30 May 2007 is a “Judgement Day” where the 9 judges of the Constitution Tribunal will decide whether to disband the Thai Rak Thai Party and/or the Democrat Party. The two political parties are charged with fraud for their actions during the 2 April 2006 polls. If found guilty, the party executives will be banned from politics for five years.

The mass demonstration planned to respond to the court’s decision has already attracted people from neighbouring provinces amidst numerous military checkpoints set up to prohibit people from pouring in Bangkok. Last week, farmers from the northeast provinces representing the Assembly of the Poor (AOP) were harassed by the police and military and blocked from entering
Bangkok. The group had planned to hold a demonstration in front of the government house.

“Thailand is a state party to the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which emphasises that the state has to protect and uphold the rights to freedom of assembly. The rights to freedom of association and assembly are vital in a democratic society regardless of political affiliation, as it is basic human rights that allow the people to gather and voice their concerns. By these rights, they are able to exercise freedom of opinion and
expression,” stressed Mr. Anselmo Lee, the Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA.

The military government has continually labelled these demonstrations as “threats to national security.” General Sonthi Boonyarathaklin, the head of the Council for National Security (CNS), in March 2007, even urged the government to issue state of emergency regulations in Bangkok to curtail anti-coup demonstrations. In April 2007, Defence Minister Boonrawd Somtas said that the military “will not tolerate any protests against the government” and assumed that “whoever tries to cause trouble in the country is…a traitor”. The CNS has repeatedly threatened that a state of emergency could be declared if demonstrators turn unruly.

Under international human rights law, “national security” may be invoked to justify measures limiting certain rights only when measures are taken to protect the existence of the nation or its territorial integrity or political independence against force or threat of force. National security cannot be invoked as a reason for imposing limitations to prevent merely local or relatively isolated, presumed threats to law and order. Moreover, a state may only derogate from its obligations under international law under a state of emergency when there is “a threat to the life of the nation”. Such a threat means that it affects the whole population and either the whole or part of the territory of the state, and it affects the physical integrity of the population, the political independence or the territorial integrity of the state. 1

“The state of emergency that is hung like a sword over those people intending to join demonstrations tomorrow is contrary to international human rights law. The military government cannot use state of emergency provisions in this case, to derogate from its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” continued Lee. He added, “Thailand as a ation is not threatened by the peaceful assembly of the people pronouncing their opinion about their own government. If these assemblies are allowed to happen, it will show that Thailand is growing as a democracy, that it is a country ruled by law and not by oppression and fear.”

In recent Thai political history, particularly 14 October 1973 and 6 October 1976, massive demonstrations by the people ended with a brutal reaction on behalf of the military. In the most recent incident, pro-democracy forces rallied in May 1992 in response to the junta’s refusal to return the country to democracy, resulting in a bloody military crackdown.


Anselmo Lee
Executive Director

For more information, please contact:

Anselmo Lee, Executive Director, FORUM-ASIA, +66 (0) 2 391 8801, [email protected] or Pokpong Lawansiri, Thailand Focal Point, FORUM-ASIA, + 66 (0) 86 603 8844, [email protected]

1 U.N. ESCOR, U.N. Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogation of Provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, UN Doc E/CN.4/1984/4 (1984).