PM halts use of military courts for security offenses

courts4In another advance towards higher human rights standards and the transition to a sustainable democratic system, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha issued an order last week for military courts to stop accepting security offenses for trial and send such cases to the civilian justice system as peace and security in the country are gradually being restored after the tumultuous events of 2014.

The order came a little more than one month after voters approved a new constitution in a national referendum, providing a framework for a new democratic system and legal basis for greater civilian control over the justice system. Organic laws are currently being drafted and passed to pave the way for national elections for a new government in late 2017.

The range of offenses that will now be handled by criminal courts include security offenses, sedition, lese majeste cases, possession of war weapons and violating orders of the National Council for Peace and Order. Human rights advocates had long criticized the government for using military courts to try civilians, but the Prime Minister countered that it was necessary to prevent a return to the violence and unrest that had been plaguing the country prior to May 2014.

“Over the past two years, peace and order have gradually been restored, with people cooperating well to bring the country forward for sustainable development, reform and fair reconciliation,” the official order stated.

“It is, therefore appropriate to further relax measures so that all sides can perform their duties and be protected by the mechanisms of the new constitution to be promulgated soon. The move is also in line with the rule of law and human rights principles.”

More than 1,800 people were or are being tried in military courts for security violations since the military intervened in May 2014. Cases that are ongoing will remain before the military courts, but any new cases will now be sent to the civilian justice system.

Human rights groups reacted positively to the new order, but still expressed caution and called for further steps in the reform process and a full return to civilian-led justice.

Last week, the Prime Minister told police to stop parading criminal suspects before the media after arrest, as it violates the rights of the accused and could leave even those found innocent by courts with a stigma as they re-integrate into society. Human rights groups also praised that order.

The developments show that with peace and security more assured, a gradual raising of standards is underway and will continue.