|"Failure to communicate"|
Although the junta ended the use of the military court against civilians last September, the order was not retroactive and 416 cases against civilians continued to be adjudicated by it. According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, an additional 500 civilians still faced arrest warrants before September last year and could also be put on trial at military court.
A representative of the Defense Ministry, under which the military court operates, tried to reassure the 18 human rights experts in Geneva reviewing Thailand’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, or ICCPR, that there’s nothing to worry about.
Lt. Gen. Krisna Bovornratanaraks, Deputy Judge Advocate General at the Defense Ministry insisted that the military court is independent and qualified to continue carrying out trials against the remaining civilians.
He said the human rights of the defendants are guaranteed and that judges have no lesser knowledge than judges in civilian courts.
“All [military] judges are also trained on human rights. The right to bail is also available,” he told the experts in Geneva today, adding that requests to bail are handled on the same basis as civilian court and that trials can be observed.
Earlier on Monday, the regime representative also pointed out that it would be inconvenient to transfer on-going cases against civilians to ordinary courts of justice and claimed that there was no precedent. It was also argued that doing so may lead to prolonged, possibly repetitious trials.
The Head of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights Yaowalak Anupan, expressed differing views at a symposium organized in Bangkok by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to observe the proceedings in Geneva today.
Yaowalak said the military court can’t be regarded as independent since it’s structurally under the Ministry of Defense and judges all military officers – in contrast to courts of justice, that are not under the Ministry of Justice.
Yaowalak mentioned that in some lèse majesté cases handled by military court since the 2014 coup, the trials prolonged themselves for a very long time when witnesses claimed they were unavailable. This, she said, led to some defendants pleading guilty so that the trial could be concluded.The question of what to do with pending cases when a country abandons military trial of civilians has been faced elsewhere. A recent example is Morocco. There, eventually, the government moved pending military court cases into the civilian courts.