A rapid descent into dictatorship
Since the 2014 military coup, Thailand has not ceased to carry on an oppressive and repressive regime and has quickly descended into a dictatorship. Three years after the coup, the all-men junta still arrests and prosecutes critics of the government, bans political activity, censors the media, stifles freedom of speech, persecutes human rights and women’s rights defenders, silences lawyers and academics, and forces the whole population to live under the threat of a tyrannical government.
On May 22, 2014, the Thai army seized power in a coup led by chief army Gen Prayut Chan-ocha, after months of political unrest. Following the coup, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) was created. Shortly after that, Prime Minister Prayut established the Martial Law Act of 1914 and replaced it a year later, with section 44 of the 2014 interim constitution. In an editorial of the New York Times on April 10, 2015, Human Rights Watch called this shift to operating article 44 an attempt to give Prime Minister Prayut “unlimited powers without safeguards against human rights violations”.
As Harry Truman once said “once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizen and creates a country where everyone lives in fear”
The infamous article 44 and the annihilation of freedom of speech
Thai authorities have replaced the largely and internationally criticized martial law with an even harsher regime with the use of the article 44 of the constitution which basically gives absolute power to the military junta. This article annihilates freedom of speech by creating an environment where members of the civil society, journalists, political opponents, lawyers, human rights advocates and anyone who openly expresses critics towards the military junta or the royalty are fearing repression, arbitrary secret detention, torture and military courts. Moreover, section 48 of the same act provides that NCPO members and anyone carrying out actions on behalf of the NCPO “shall be absolutely exempted from any wrongdoing, responsibilities and liabilities”. Consequently, military leaders and anyone who acts on their behalf can continue to commit abuses without fear of prosecution.
Thai authorities have created a “fearful environment where people cannot speak or assemble without risking arrest and prosecution”, as stated by Amnesty International in their latest report. The regime has “prosecuted critics of military rule, banned political activity, censored the media, and tried dissidents in unfair military courts.” Indeed, since taking control, the Prayuth dictatorship regime has arrested or detained more than 1,000 people, including student protesters, opposition politicians, independent journalists, and even critical academics and many have been held incommunicado. In 2017, the junta has dramatically increased the use of Thailand’s oppressive lese-majeste laws and arrested over a 100 people under the article 112 in which a person who’s found guilty of criticizing the monarchy risks up to 15 years of jail.
The military junta has passed numerous laws and decrees that tend to silence critics and opposition to the Thai military government. Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s Director for South-East Asia and the Pacific, sent a clear warning that “if repressive laws and orders are not quickly reformed or repealed, restrictions on human rights could become entrenched”.
An all-men realm excluding women from the decision making process
Thailand is a country almost entirely ruled by men and the institutionalized system created by the NCPO is making sure that women will remain a minority in this government. Indeed, members of the military junta are the only ones to appoint members to the executive and legislative bodies. Women only account to 4% of National Legislative Assembly members, 11% of Cabinet members, 9% of National Reform Steering Assembly members, and 13% of Constitution Drafting Committee members.
In order to make the government and the military junta appear more “sympathetic”, Thai authorities have not hesitated to make women parade on the streets in Bangkok in very sexy military outfits, using women only to seduce ad make people forget about the abuses that the military junta has conducted since wielding power. This is just another proof that the Thai government has very little consideration and respect for women.
Thailand’s new constitution, which came into effect on 6 April 2017, has been largely criticized by international bodies for not complying with international standards. For instance, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which is a body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), stated in its last report that Thailand “fails to ensure that women, on equal terms with men, have the right to participate in the formulation of government policy and the implementation thereof and to hold public office and perform all public functions at all levels of government.”
Women in the sights of the military junta
Whereas economic and non-economic roles of women in Thailand have evolved positively towards gender equality in the past few decades following drastic economic and social changes, gender inequalities, discriminations and violence are still prevalent in the country. Women who have been suffering from numerous forms of oppression due to their gender have always been able so far to access help and protection from women’s groups and women’s rights defenders. The feminism movement has also contributed tremendously to advance the cause for women in Thailand whether it is on a legal, social or economic level. Many important laws, such as laws on domestic violence have been passed thanks to women’s movements. Women’s groups, women’s movements or women’s rights defenders are crucial to the advancement of human rights.
In the past 3 years of the ruling of the military junta, the country has seen numerous women’s rights defenders being put behind bars for exercising their work peacefully. Women at large and women’s rights defenders in particular are at risk under the NCPO. They face judicial harassment, online intimidation and insults with gender specific rhetoric, threats, acts of violence and inadequate, unfair, often denied of mechanism of protection and access to justice.
With the existing and newly introduced laws and decrees, Thai authorities are continuing to prevent any form of gathering including public events, forum, raising awareness campaign led by women’s groups and targeting women. Reports show that there is “unwillingness on the authorities part to adequately investigate and prosecute cases of abuses against women’s rights defenders”. Law enforcement bodies and the justice system is biased, plus is under the absolute control of the military junta that has made it clear that it could not be held responsible for any violation of human rights.
The current political climate is challenging the work of women’s rights defenders which is putting in danger the betterment of the condition for women in Thailand as it doesn’t seem to be the priority for the government.
Democracy and the betterment of women’s condition are intertwined
The betterment of the situation for women in Thailand has been immensely affected by the prolonged ruling of the military junta and the dictatorship of Prime Minister Prayut. Under the current government, women are systematically being excluded from public consultations and decision-making processes. Women’s rights defenders are systematically being a risk towards violence, discrimination, intimidation and violation of their human rights which stifle their work and consequently put vulnerable women into an even deeper vulnerability.
In this context, women have difficulties raising their specific issues and reaching out to the government for social and policy change. It seems that women’s issues are not important enough to be on the agenda for the Thai government for the moment.
The international community continues to express publicly its concerns regarding the political situation in Thailand and its impact on the most vulnerable, amongst which are women, and continues to encourage the Thai government to take immediate and democratic decisions in order to re-establish a democratic regime towards respecting human rights. Although Thai authorities have promised to hold election in 2018, it has made sure to strengthen and prolong military control even after a democratic regime is voted.
The 2014 military coup was the 12th coup since the revolution turned the absolute monarchy into a constitutional monarchy in 1932. The 2014 coup has sunk Thailand into a land where human rights are being violated on a daily basis with impunity. Hope remains as Thai people don’t seem to be giving up or stay passive while their rights are taken away. Same as the women we interviewed for the project Univers’ELLES, they still raise their voices in spite of the risks. They may use anonymity to express their opinion about the ongoing political regime and its impact on women to avoid persecution and imprisonment, yet they continue the fight for their freedom and their rights.
Amnesty International – Report Thailand 2016/2017 –https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/asia-and-the-pacific/thailand/report-thailand/ – 2017
Human Rights Watch – Thailand: Junta entrenched 3 years after coup. Empty promises to respect rights, restore democracy – https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/05/21/thailand-junta-entrenched-3-years-after-coup – 2017
International Federation for Human Rights – Thailand: Women human rights defenders at heightened risk of attacks and intimidation – https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/human-rights-defenders/thailand-women-human-rights-defenders-at-heightened-risk-of-attacks – 2017
CEDAW in Action – Thailand – http://cedaw-in-action.org/en/thailand/ – 2017
Forbes – Thailand suffers as military plans to extend control: Junta delivers oppression, not happiness – https://www.forbes.com/sites/dougbandow/2015/09/01/thailand-suffers-as-military-plans-to-extend-control-junta-delivers-oppression-not-happiness/#3f63f6c4191c – 2015
Gunda Werner Institute – Feminism and Gender Democracy. Localizing feminism: Women’s voices and social activism in Thai context – https://www.gwi-boell.de/en/2011/03/09/localizing-feminism-women%E2%80%99s-voices-and-social-activism-thai-context – 2011
Social Watch – Look at the world through Thai women’s eyes – http://www.socialwatch.org/node/17092 – 2015