Six human rights groups have called on Thailand's junta to rescind an executive order issued last week that gives military officers police-like powers. The order is another troubling sign of deteriorating rule of law.
An order issued by Thailand's junta granting military officers sweeping police powers is in "contravention of human rights and the rule of law," six rights groups said Tuesday, urging the government to rescind a law that opens up the possibility of widespread abuse.
Last week the head of the military government, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha (pictured), issued an executive order giving military officers with the rank of sub-lieutenant or higher the authority to seize assets, search premises, summon suspects, arrest, and interrogate civilians for a host of crimes.
Officers are now authorized to prevent 27 types of crimes, including human trafficking, narcotics, weapons, robbery, fraud, forgery, immigration, defamation, debt collection, gambling, child protection, prostitution, loan sharking and tour guide services.
Six rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Amnesty International, and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) condemned the new law.
"Instead of paving the way for a return to democratic rule, the Thai junta has broadened its powers to do almost anything it wants, including committing abuses with total impunity," said Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch.
In addition to granting soldiers a form of immunity from prosecution, the order throws away judicial review and allows persons to be held for up to seven days in detention.
"The Order is yet another example of the pernicious removal of powers from the judicial system to review the military's actions, to the detriment of rights protection and the rule of law," said Champa Patel, Interim Director, South East Asia and Pacific Regional Office, Amnesty International.
The rights groups said the order could lead to abuses by a military untrained in policing.
"The Order provides law enforcement powers to military officials who do not have law enforcement experience or protocols to summon, search, and arrest persons," said Evelyn Balais-Serrano, the Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA. "There is a real risk the Order may be used to restrict the legitimate rights of people such as the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association."
The rights groups' concerns were echoed by the US State Department, which on Monday urged the Thai military government to leave policing and judicial matters to civilian authorities.
The executive order is the latest extension of military power since the generals took control in a May 2014 coup they said was meant to end corruption, protests and instability.