Published on December 17, 2007
The latest version, with 25 articles, has done away with some of the most draconian features that gave overwhelming power to the military and exempting officials who commit offences from prosecution. These earlier drafts overtly favoured the supremacy of the military in running the country's affairs in times of emergency without considering the judicial process and the civic component.
While the draft has been greatly watered down, the execution of duty and the exercise of power are still very much in the hands of the military and that could further nurture a culture of impunity and breed injustice. The proposed bill shows that the Thai state and its citizens are weak. As a result, the state has to increase its reserve power and ammunition when threats - real or imagined - arise.
That helps explain why authorities are still unable to provide a definition of national security and draw up parameters for it, and the justification for its maintenance. For the time being, anything that they perceive as affecting the country's independence and integrity and causing disorder is a threat to national security. As such, the state security apparatus will trump all aspects related to human security. Ironically, the concept of human security, which has been played up for the past six years with a whole ministry set up for it, has not been given much thought at all.
The current violence and conflict in the three provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani have also contributed to the need to promote state security. Thai forces argue that they need all available tools to fight insurgents who have killed over 2,700 people and wounded nearly 8,000 since 2004.
The new draft, which could be passed through three readings in the National Legislative Assembly in coming days, has two components: the first is related to preventive measures, and the second focuses on pre-crisis management. The draft states from the outset that the bill would restrict public rights and liberties under Article 29, 32, 33, 34, 36, 41 and 43 of the Constitution. Article 38, 45 and 63 were taken out of the final draft as they involved forced labour and restrictions on freedom of expression, movement and assembly.
Myriad questions arise related to the Internal Security Operation Command (Isoc), a legacy of the Cold War, and whether it is suitable to take over Thailand's future securitisation. The awkwardly named entity used to be synonymous with human-rights violations and the inhumane treatment of communist suspects, which made Isoc the most feared organisation of the 1970s and early 1980s. It was credited for its campaign against the spread of communist insurgencies. In the past two decades, Isoc officials and networks have been mobilised to counter drug trafficking and, lately, to make forays into the South.
Under the new draft, Isoc, which will act as a coordinator between all government offices, will be under the control of the prime minister instead of the Army chief as originally outlined. Any declarations of emergency and subsequent operations would have to be approved by the Cabinet within a specific time frame. Once an operation has been completed, the prime minister must then report the outcome to the National Legislative Assembly.
These are considered preventive measures to ensure that the prime minister, who is an elected official, is consulted along with Cabinet. The National Legislative Assembly, which had previously never been notified of such activities, would be made privy to Isoc's operations.
Article 22, the most controversial of the proposed amendments, which would have exempted Isoc personnel who commit legal offences from prosecution, was dropped. Now, any civilian affected by an Isoc operation can appeal to a court seeking justice and compensation.
There will also be a so-called "healing" process for those suspects who want to pursue rehabilitation. Such people would be able to rejoin society after training and orientation and would not be charged again for the same offences.
One new element that has been introduced is the role of civil society organisations. Under Article 9, Isoc must set up an advisory committee to provide consultation and recommendations on matters related to national security. Within the committee, the final draft stipulates that the appointments of experts must include representatives from the private sector as well as civil society organsations to allow for pluralistic views.
This portion might not survive once it is submitted to the National Legislative Assembly. Top military leaders still voice strong objections over the idea of having civil society organisations participate in security matters.
It is unfortunate that responses to the security challenges facing Thailand have so far emanated from the military and security apparatus only. Any measure that serves to protect the Thai people without respecting and protecting human rights will be fruitless. It is not too late to incorporate the valuable lessons learned from the violence in the South and elsewhere in Thailand.