US Urges Thailand to Restore Democracy, Respect Rights

Sarah Sewell reiterates Washington’s call in a meeting with junta chief Prayut Chan-o-cha.

US Urges Thailand to Restore Democracy, Respect Rights
Credit: Flickr/Prachatai

The United States reiterated its call yesterday for Thailand’s ruling junta to restore democracy and respect freedoms and rights.

Sarah Sewell, the U.S. undersecretary for civilian security, democracy and human rights, met with Thai junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha on Monday during the tail-end of her four-day visit to Thailand. According to a press release issued following the meeting, the two reportedly discussed a range of issues including refugees and human trafficking.

They also discussed democracy and human rights, an issue that has roiled ties between the two allies since a coup in May 2014 (See: “Exclusive: Managing the Strained U.S.-Thailand Alliance”).

“She urged Thailand to restore democratic governance and stressed the importance of ensuring full respect for freedom of expression and other human rights and fundamental freedoms in order to secure stable and sustainable governance and institutions,” the press release said.

Thai deputy government spokesman Major General Werachon Sukondhapatipak said that Prayut reiterated to Sewall that the government was following its roadmap to democracy, with a general election to be held next year (See: “Thailand’s Junta Chief Pledges New Elections in 2017”). He also said that the Thai government placed an importance on protecting people’s rights and freedoms.

Since the coup, Thailand has seen growing human rights concerns, with civilians tried in military tribunals, critics subjected to so-called attitude adjustment sessions and lese majeste laws increasingly used to stifle dissent (See: “Thailand ‘Going Against the Tide of History and ASEAN’: Top UK Diplomat”). The holding of an election has also been repeatedly delayed, first to 2016 and now 2017, with close observers already noting that changes to the constitution and other maneuvers may mean that polls will not really matter even if they are eventually held (See: “Why Thailand’s Next Election May Not Matter”).

Apart from the meeting with Prayut, Sewall’s visit to Thailand, which lasted from March 25 to 28, saw her visit Songkhla province where she highlighted the need for an inclusive peace process to find a solution to a raging insurgency in the deep south. She also visited the U.S.-Thai joint International Law Enforcement Academy in Bangkok, where she emphasized the importance of regional cooperation to fight crime, respect rights and ensure legal protections for all people under the law.

Meanwhile, Prayut is expected to visit Washington, D.C. later this week for the fourth iteration of the Nuclear Industry Summit from March 31 to April 1.