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REGIONAL PERSPECTIVE: Ending Thailand's impunity for real


Ending Thailand's impunity for real

Kavi Chongkittavorn 

The Nation, July 2, 2012 1:00 am

After an impressive defence of Thailand's human right records in Geneva at the first cycle of universal periodic review (UPR) last October, concerned authorities from at least 30 agencies across the country are now hard at work.

They have met and consulted over ways and means to implement recommendations from the outcome documents of UN Human Rights Council and stakeholders.

Out of the 172 recommendations, the Thai government agreed to voluntary implement 134 in total, leaving 38 of them untouched due to their sensitive nature such as lese majeste, southern Thailand, among others. Literally it has until 2018 to follow through. With that time frame, Asean has already become a single community. The country could be a member 2016 for the non-permanent seat of UN Security Council in 2016. Its reputation and positions in the regional and global community could be further promoted or drum down depending on overall voluntary implementation on measures to improve human rights conditions at home. It is a tall order and time-consuming to fully comply with all requests, since it will be the first time that Thailand begins to address their root cause. Throughout the past decade, efforts related to rights abuses were passive and concentrated on investigation, compensations, rehabilitation and healings. The work of Department of Special Investigation (DSI) serves as a good example. DSI has more than 500 staffers with a total budget of 420 million baht. In comparison, Department of Rights and Liberties Protection, which plans and implements policies and measures on human rights, has only 65 officials and a budget of 106 million baht. The asymmetrical funding showed the government's focus on the effects than the causes. The current Thai constitution is extensive - more than 60 provisions - in protecting all forms of human rights and human dignity both at individual and collective levels. However, when it comes to implementation, there is a huge gap with the pronounced policies.

After years of trails and errors, officials handling human rights, principally at Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Commission for Human Rights and Department of Rights and Liberties Protection, are on the same page related to the best way to tackle human right violations by zeroing in on prevention and early warning system aim at stopping violations from occurring. In private discussions, some of these officials said they draw inspirations from the experience of Ministry of Public Health in tackling with all forms of contagious diseases such as avian-flu or Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome). Public health officials are skillful in conducting surveillance on certain diseases so they can flag early warnings and contain epidemics before it affects or spread out to the population at large.

For more ways than one, the success and failure of the country's human rights record would depend these officials' understanding of the importance of human rights protection within the national and universal contexts, especially the army and police. Truth be told, it was not until the Takbai incident in Narathiwat in October 2004 causing 90 deaths that the authorities realised something went horribly wrong in their rule of engagements and handling of demonstrators. Since then, through incremental and discreet changes from within, the Thai army officers began to educate themselves on human rights with assistance from the rights specialists from Department of Rights and Liberties Protection. They were more comfortable learning, sharing and pick up best practices from other government officials rather than outside experts. Progress is slow as the abuses still continues but nonetheless there have been some improvement.

Previously inside the army barracks a mere mentioning of human rights would be frowned upon immediately as it was a taboo. However, over the years more public demands for human rights protection and end of impunity coupling with growing influential of Bangkok-based international human rights organizations and their monitoring has slowly changed their perceptions as well as the country's treatment of rights issues. Thailand's treatment of the extra-judicial killings was the case in point. After nearly a decade, the DSI was able to complete investigation on just 3 cases as genuine drug couriers out of the estimated 2,500 extra-judicial killings of drug suspects which began in early 2003. The Thai human rights defenders believed that half of them were innocent. DSI has to do more work.

After the establishment of NHRC in Thailand in 1997, the first four-year human rights action plan was drafted followed the recommendations by the Vienna Declaration on Human Rights in 1993. The current second four-year plan (2000-2013) addresses the key human rights issues and indicators inside the country. For instance, Thailand is expected to make further progress on the deliberation of the death penalty as part of the action plan. During the Abhisit government, Thailand pledged to review the archaic practice. Indeed, the penalty has not been carried out for over two decades. Under his government, three executions by injections were administrated. The government at the time viewed the execution as a preventive measure to deter the rise of drug trafficking and usages. Concerned officials think the capital punishment should be reviewed by taking into consideration all political and cultural factors. Further research must be conducted to determine if the death penalty can deter the criminal acts as often claimed. During the UPR in Geneva, ten nations urged Thailand to either place moratorium or abolish on death penalty.

It is hoped in the third four-year human rights action plan (2014-2018), which is in the drafting stage, would dwell on preventive measures, good governance and administration of justice that would enable the authorities to greatly improve the human right protection inside the country. The third plan needs to emphasis on educating the public about their rights and their responsibilities. Of course, police should be singled out. Most of human rights violations came from the police, who have the tendency to falsify evidences, arrest suspects without due process of laws and tend to protect their own colleagues. Worse, innocent victims were abused and did not received proper apologies and compensation. More than the government would like to admit, its leaders have principally relied on police forces, who have gained monopolistic power once again in law and order, to do political works.

To be fair, some progress have been made in the past months. After some recalcitrance, Thailand has agreed to welcome all special UN rapporteurs depending priorities and scheduling in the next four years. Last year it ratified the UN Convention against Torture. Next would be the International Convention on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Within the international human rights community, Thailand has a bad reputation as no progress report was made on the 38 cases of disappearance officially filed since 1992.

It is about time that the Yingluck government with its much touted banner of democracy promotion to sign and ratify all international bills of rights without delay and must be prudent in ending all forms of impunity.


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