- September 25, 2006
A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission
THAILAND: MILITARY COUP--Someone had to do something?
On September 21 the Royal Thai Consulate General in Hong Kong wrote
to the Asian Human Rights Commission. In the letter, the consul
general said that despite the September 19 military coup "the
courts... function as normal, with the exception of the
Constitutional Court". The Constitutional Court has been suspended in
the absence of the 1997 Constitution. In an attached statement, the
consulate added that the coup group had promised to "uphold the
principles of the UN and other international organizations and comply
with obligations under international treaties and agreements".
The notion that courts under a military junta "function as normal" is
of course ridiculous. So too is the notion that obligations under
international treaties and agreements can be upheld.
A military coup necessarily displaces the foundations upon which the
rule of law operates. Where an army unilaterally takes power by force
and abrogates the national constitution, it is acting illegally to
undermine everything upon which the courts stand. In an interview
with The Times newspaper, a senior spokesman for the junta has
admitted as much. " is against the law... But sometimes, to break the
deadlock, someone has to do something," Major General Thawip Netniyom
is reported as having said.
That "sometimes someone has to do something" is a neat phrase,
because it can be used to justify anything. When the "someone" is an
army clique and the "something" is a coup, a range of generic
justifications must follow: the administration was corrupt; the
nation was at risk; the people lacked unity. Hence the purported
solutions: remove the administration; rescue the nation; reimpose
What about legality? Regardless of whether or not a shot is fired,
upon what authority does a junta order the creation of new state
bodies, and the dissolution or recomposition of others? Upon what
authority does it order the transfer, promotion or demotion of police
and military officers and bureaucrats? Upon what authority does it
nominate a new prime minister or propose a timetable for elections?
Certainly, legal systems are complicated, imperfect and time-
consuming. That is because the management of a modern state, with
many competing interests and demands, is complicated, imperfect and
time-consuming. To bypass all of this because "sometimes someone has
to do something" is not to solve any problems. It is to throw justice
into the rubbish bin. And with it go the principles upon which human
rights are protected, international laws written and courts
established. This is not stability; it is not rule of law: it is its
antithesis. It is dictatorship.
Thailand's national laws and courts have since September 19 been
thrown into limbo. Whereas in the months before the coup the superior
courts were engaged in a tremendous effort to resolve the national
impasse through application of law, their work has been rendered
irrelevant. Whereas the lower courts had in recent times begun to
directly invoke the 1997 Constitution, they are now bereft of any
basis for assertion of fundamental rights.
Thailand's responsibilities to international laws have also ceased to
have anything other than formal validity. The commitment to
international law by the military junta is relevant only in terms of
its attempts to obtain some international respectability. In
practical terms, it is meaningless.
The struggle for human rights and democracy in Thailand has been set
back by decades. There is no avoiding this uncomfortable fact. Nor is
there any possibility of reversing it. It cannot be denied through
light-hearted observations that everything may turn out alright. The
disastrous consequences of this military takeover must be openly
recognised, and efforts begun to address them.
The Asian Human Rights Commission calls upon all rights groups and
concerned persons and agencies in Thailand and abroad to review every
aspect of their work in the country. Now is the time to ask big
questions of ourselves and others. We cannot be reduced to small
talk. How can the courts in Thailand "function as normal" today? How
can the country "comply with obligations under international treaties
and agreements"? And how can anyone with an agenda for human rights
and the rule of law in Thailand deny that perhaps in another five,
ten or 15 years an army general may not again in a matter of hours
tear up the constitution and appoint his own government on the
pretext that "someone had to do something"? These are the questions
that matter now. There is no more business as usual in Thailand.
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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.