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In creating a just Thailand: junta's "top goals"

"The government's top goals are to create a society where there is reform and justice, with no corruption", Thailand's new Prime Minister General Prayuth Chanocha declared.
Nattawat Theeralerttham
16.9.2014

The declaration is a part of the 23-page policy statement announced at the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) on September 11. 

Thailand in the past few years had suffered from division and conflict. The latest incident is the Anti-government protests which took place between November 2013 and May 2014, led by the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC). The protests eventually resulted in the sack of the former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the establishment of a military junta, marking the 12th coups in Thailand since 1932.

There is a general consensus that the root causes of the ongoing political instability in the country are essentially due to the rampant economic and social inequalities. While the country as a whole has enjoyed accelerated economic growth in the past decade, wealth disparity has widen unprecedentedly. Thailand is now ranked 162 out of 174 countries in terms of disparity in personal wealth in the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook.

At the same time, the accelerated growth has been accompanied by unjust laws getting passed or amended, for instance, the one related to granting concessions, which limited the general public's access to land and forests. When people's rights are limited, their opportunities are also limited. As only those with authority and power are given the rights and opportunities, the gap has widen even further.

In need of serious reform, the 23-page policy statement released by the junta gives Thailand a new hope. It has identified and committed to tackle 11 crucial areas including education, economy, public health, judiciary and corruption. The National Reform Commission (NRC) is being set up and will start working immediately in areas that require urgent action. Noble principles such as "justice", "transparency" and "accountability" are now in virtually every speech and press release of the junta. This must really be the start of a new era for a just society in Thailand.

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But is it really?

A 65-page report by Amnesty International entitled "Thailand: Attitude Adjustment—100 Days Under Martial Law" finds that Thailand's junta "has undertaken a series of measures that have altered Thailand’s institutional and legal framework, removing or weakening human rights protections. It has implemented existing laws, Martial Law and new vaguely-worded orders to stop 'political activities' and 'adjust attitudes' of would-be dissenters. Many of these laws and orders in and of themselves violate human rights, including by creating restrictions on human rights which go beyond those allowed under international law".

One of the more recent instances was September 2 when the junta ordered that a human rights forum at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) be cancelled; and the organizers were summoned to a police station to answer a defamation complaint filed by the army. The event entitled "Access to Justice in Thailand: A presentation on human rights 100 days after the coup" was organized as Thailand is applying for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.

This authoritarian order has been condemned by the United Nations (UN) and Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR). The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is calling on the junta to allow freedom of expression and peaceful public assembly.

"The cancellation of this event adds to other incidents indicating a deteriorating environment for human rights defenders in the country", the OHCHR said.

The junta's suppressions violate a range of fundamental human rights protected under the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. But it is not just that. The Prime Minister General Prayuth himself declared that "the government's top goals are to create a society where there is reform and justice".

He also claims to be promoting justice, transparency and accountability in his country. These are not foreign principles —they supposed to be official part of this country. It may be a little too early to make any judgement. But the fact that the words and actions are not exactly fitting is a justified concern.

Justice, transparency and accountability cannot be achieved without public participation. In a democratic society, the Government is of the People, by the People, and for the People. The people wield the power. Government exists to serve and protect the people, not to dictate or threaten them.

Let us hope for the better that all the discourse of reform as well as all the noble principles the junta is promoting would not be just a buzzword. As Thailand is at a crossroad, let us hope that its leadership is going to take the right turn.