Martial law is the opposite of rule of law

 2007-09-19 09:08:57

September 19, 2007
A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

On 27 September 2006, eight days after the coup that has dragged Thailand back to the dark days of military intervention into all areas of political and social life, the country’s ambassador to the United Nations told the General Assembly that “we can well expect that one of the first tasks of the new civilian government will be to do away with martial law”.

Not only was no civilian government installed, but martial law has been kept in place across almost half of the country throughout the entire year, in addition to the emergency rule over the three southernmost provinces. It was also not lifted for the referendum that was held to endorse the military-backed constitution, which was passed by only around one third of total eligible voters in the country.

Now the military regime has reportedly indicated that it intends to remove martial law from 11 of the 35 provinces where it is still in force–Kamphaeng Phet, Udon Thani, Khon Kaen, Nakhon Ratchasima, Roi Et, Maha Sarakham, Phetcahburi, Ratchaburi and Prachuap Kiri Khan–while at the same time reinstalling it in three–Nakhon Phanom, Nong Khai and Mukdahan. Thus, the country will go into a general election with 27 provinces under martial law and three under emergency regulations, out of 76 provinces in total. According to an army spokesperson, the reintroduction of martial law into three provinces has nothing to do with politics and is rather a matter of border security. However, the fact remains that in these three provinces where martial law was not imposed during the referendum, the votes against the new constitution were all over 73 per cent, with Nakhon Phanom having the highest No vote in the northeast. Thus it is disingenuous to suggest that there is no connection between the forthcoming election, the strong anti-coup turnout in those provinces and the resumption of martial law in them, not least of all after repeated comments by senior army officers–including coup leader General Sonthi Boonyaratglin–that
the military intends to set things straight in the region before the next vote in December.

The interim government–its prime minister in particular–has constantly iterated a concern for the rule of law and democracy, but martial law is their opposite. Under martial law, military authorities are exempted from ordinary laws and criminal process. They have the power to search and seize property and vehicles anywhere and anytime; stop and search persons at will; and reside in, destroy or relocate a dwelling. They can prohibit public gatherings, publications, advertisements, use of roads or public transport and communications. They can order someone to be held under house arrest. They can evict anyone from anywhere. And they can detain suspects for up to seven days for interrogation without access to a lawyer or courts, in contrast to the 48 hours provided under the ordinary criminal procedure law.

There were many reports of soldiers exercising their powers under martial law throughout the referendum to prevent campaigning that was viewed as hostile to the new constitution. Residences were raided, vehicles stopped and materials confiscated. Certainly, with 30 provinces still under either martial law or emergency rule, more of the same can be expected in the coming period as the regime will be determined to ensure that after all the work it has done so far, none of the persons associated with the former government find their way back into elected posts. Thus the country will be shoved from a phoney referendum to a farcical election.

The Asian Human Rights Commission insists that the only possibility for any democratic process in Thailand will be through the complete lifting of the martial law from across the country that was imposed one year ago today, and also the ending of the Emergency Decree over the southern provinces, under which the security forces there have been responsible for the most atrocious and grievous human rights abuses. If the military regime refuses to remove martial law and persists with the same pantomime that it happily performed in August, when less than 60 per cent of the electorate turned up at the ballot boxes, than why should anyone–other than the parties who stand to gain from the destruction of the former ruling group and its agents–bother to vote at all?    


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