FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
THAILAND: AHRC marks "one week of dictatorship" by celebrating
(Hong Kong, September 26, 2006) The Asian Human Rights Commission
(AHRC) on Tuesday promoted Thailand's 1997 constitution, one week
after it was disbanded by the army.
"We are marking one week of dictatorship in Thailand by remembering
and celebrating the 1997 constitution," Basil Fernando, executive
director of the Hong Kong-based regional rights group, said.
The group posted a banner at the top of its website at
www.ahrchk.net, which reads: The 1997 Constitution of the Kingdom of
Thailand--LET IT LIVE.
The banner, which links to the charter's text, also bears a picture
of the constitution.
"We will keep this supreme law on our website as an active reminder
to the people of Thailand and the world of what this military regime
has stripped from them," Fernando said.
"Despite its imperfections, this was the only constitution in the
history of Thailand that was written with the express purpose of
securing power for the people, not for the army," he said.
"For this reason above all others its abolition by the military is an
affront to the burgeoning spirit of human rights and rule of law in
Thailand, and indeed this entire region," he added.
"We are offended that decades of political struggle by people in
Thailand, which has been an inspiration for others throughout Asia,
could be undone in a few hours on the whim of an army general,"
The 1997 constitution was drafted by an elected assembly, in contrast
to earlier constitutions, which were drafted by persons appointed by
military coup groups.
Some commentators have expressed concerns that the same persons who
had been used by the military to prepare constitutions after previous
coups are again being called into service.
"We have no illusions that the military has taken power in order to
advance the public interest or democracy," Fernando said.
"The pursuit of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his
cronies is just a cover for the army's agenda, as it was in 1991," he
said, referring to the military coup of that year against the
corrupted government of Chatichai Choonhavan.
"It is instructive that so far the junta has followed a very similar
path to that taken by the regime 15 years ago," Fernando noted.
"We wonder how much it has learnt from the lessons of that time," he
In November 1991 there were huge public protests against the army-
imposed draft charter.
Although the constitution was passed, in May 1992 it led to the
downfall of General Suchinda Kraprayoon, who was then serving as
prime minister, and ultimately to demands for a new supreme law.
"The junta in 1991 found it much more difficult to get anything done
than it had anticipated, and we expect that in 2006 the new regime
will encounter even more obstacles," Fernando said.
"Thailand is a sophisticated country with a vibrant and thinking
society that will not sit quietly while the army does as it pleases,"
"In addition, the presence of the internet, mobile phones and other
modern communications make the job doubly difficult for this junta
than it was for its predecessors," Fernando added.
"If the generals think that they can silence public opinion and free
speech in Thailand, they are fooling themselves," he opined.
Fernando said he hoped that people would take time to read through
the 1997 charter, whether on the AHRC website or elsewhere, and
recall what had been lost to Thailand a week ago.
"Take section 32, which prohibits torture," Fernando said.
"There has never been a domestic law to enforce the provision, but at
least it was there in principle," he said.
"Now even that much does not exist, so is torture legal in Thailand
today? Upon what grounds can the country stand when it talks about
adherence to international standards?" Fernando asked pointedly.
The coup group led by General Sonthi Boonyaratglin has said that it
will hand power to a civilian prime minister under an interim prime
minister next week.
However, it has said reportedly said that it will not disband but
will continue to "assist" in governance.
"This latest remark lays bare the lie that was propagated through the
world media from the start that these generals would just come and go
quietly," Fernando observed.
"There is no such thing as a short-term junta," he concluded.
# # #
About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-
governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues
in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.
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