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THAILAND: Thailand's rights reputation in the sewer

[Awzar Thi is the pen name of a member of the Asian Human Rights Commission with more than 15 years of experience as an advocate of human rights and the rule of law in Thailand and Burma. His Rule of Lords blog can be read at http://ratchasima.net]

Not so long ago, Thailand・s representatives at United Nations meetings sat quietly while counterparts from nearby countries like Burma and Cambodia were grilled on their human rights records.

Around the world, Thailand・s legal, political and social developments in the 1990s were greeted with applause, and its people in Geneva could sit comfortably, confident that their country would be held up as an example of somewhere with an improved record, even as their neighbours were being singled out for the opposite reason.

How times have changed. In February 2008, the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) submitted a statement to the Human Rights Council that has painted the bleakest picture yet of denied rights and declining rule of law in Thailand during the past few years.

According to the Hong Kong-based group, Thailand is now in real danger of turning back into an internal-security state. ALRC・s indicators include the repeated overthrow of elected governments by antidemocratic forces, large-scale public criminal activity with impunity, Internet censorship and the lese-majesty witch hunt, threats to human rights defenders, and forced repatriation and murder on the high seas.

The first item on ALRC・s list is the removal from office of Samak Sundaravej・s and Somchai Wongsawat・s governments through court orders based on bizarre clauses in the army-sponsored 2007 Constitution. Neither of them, the group underlines, was a friend of human rights, citing Samak・s fantastic denials of historical fact on the Thammasat massacre and Tak Bai killings. But, it adds, that both were pushed out, and the manner in which each was pushed, indicate that :electoral politics in Thailand have been sidelined and that the senior judiciary has been made into a tool for conservative political forces and is not at all independent.;

The second of ALRC・s indicators concerns the military-style Government House and airport takeovers at the end of 2008. :The group spearheading them,; it continues, :Ran a de facto police force whose members openly and covertly carried and used weapons, including guns, explosives, knives and an array of blunt instruments. This group assaulted and illegally confined numerous persons, and is believed to have been responsible for at least one killing.;

Despite all this, there have so far been no reports of credible criminal inquiries, and the prime minister・s excusing himself from responsibility by saying that it is a job for the police and courts, is patently ridiculous. Not only can he have special teams take up these cases, but he is dutybound to do as much given the scale of the events and their consequences. But with the latest news that he and his staff have attended the funeral ceremony for a member of the group responsible for the takeovers, it looks unlikely that he is going to take this duty seriously.

...Thailand is now in real danger of turning back into an internal-security state...ALRC's indicators include the repeated overthrow of elected governments by antidemocratic forces, large-scale public criminal activity with impunity...threats to human rights defenders, and forced repatriation and murder on the high seas.

The third points the ALRC takes up is the increasingly hot topic of people charged for commenting about the royal family, and the closely-related issue of online censorship. It cites a number of widelyreported cases and expresses special concern over the new :Protect the King; website operating on the parliament・s server; a website which is encouraging citizens to make complaints about others whom they think have committed an offence against the monarchy.

Fourth, the group describes the growing harassment of rights defenders in Thailand, along with the systemic failure to solve killings and disappearances of activists in previous years. These incidents are not sporadic, but are a part of the institutional make-up of the internal-security state;.

Most recently, after the Internal Security Operations Command said that insurgents in the south of the country were using human rights agencies to spread hatred among local people, soldiers and police raided the office of one well-known group. The command・s subsequent claims that the raid was part of a search for an alleged terrorist hiding in the area are unbelievable. The man they were purportedly hunting could not have hidden himself in the document files and computer drives that they went through for some three hours.

Fifth and finally, the ALRC has raised the widely-reported inhuman treatment of hundreds of persons travelling across the Bay of Bengal and who passed into or near Thailand・s waters only to be forced back out to sea again, many to their deaths. After weeks of blanket denial, the prime minister・s recent allowance that there may have been some such incidents is not only morally bankrupt but also holds no hope that the full story will ever be revealed.

His qualifying of every remark and his insistence in a recent interview that these people about whom he knows nothing are :not refugees, just illegal immigrants; are the words of a man trying to squirm out of a tight spot rather than trying to do something about a matter of life or death. All this and more is being put before the current sitting of the Human Rights Council. Ironically, back in 2006 before the coup Thailand tried to get a seat on the council. It failed then not because of poor diplomacy, as it claimed, but because after five years of government under Thaksin Shinawatra its rights reputation was in the gutter. It is not in the gutter any more. Now it is in the sewer.

To get it out again requires courage to admit the facts, tell the truth and do something about it. Neither Thailand・s mealymouthed prime minister nor the phalanx of generals at his rear can be expected to do this, which is why it falls to everyone else concerned about the defence of human ights in Thailand to speak and act instead.

Posted on 2009-08-06
Asian Human Rights Commission

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