Friday, December 10, 2010

Thailand has to do a lot better on human rights

Yesterday was International Human Rights Day and also Thailand's Constitution Day.

It thus carries double significance. The Thai Constitution guarantees fundamental rights, which are contained in more than 60 constitutional articles that protect and promote all aspects of our individual and collective freedoms. The Thai Constitution is very comprehensive when it comes to human rights issues. The only problem is the huge gap in the implementation of all these rights.

We Thais seem to have a great problem in turning the letter of the law into action that provides tangible results. Whenever international human rights organisations take Thailand to task over these discrepancies, we are usually at a loss to give a proper and clear explanation. When this happens, as it often does, it damages our reputation as a country that has promised to respect human rights.

Every Thai government has struggled to follow its own human rights agenda. There is very little effort or intent. Some administrations do better than others, depending on who happens to be the head of the government at the time.

Under the government of ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, extra-judicial killings were common, and they were not considered as human rights violations. Other issues, including the lese majeste law, have clouded the country's human rights and freedom of expression records.

Since the democracy uprising of 1973, Thailand's record on human rights has generally continued to improve, but at a snail's pace. Within the region, our overall performance is not that bad - especially when compared to some of our immediate neighbours - although it is still below credible international standards.

Before the 1970s, that crucial period in Thai history, violations of basic rights by people in high positions, whether they were in uniform or not, were rampant. People power nearly four decades ago changed all that. But there is still a lot to be desired.

The government under Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is trying to cope with myriad human rights issues in an accountable and transparent way. During the past year, he has had to deal with allegations of human rights violations in both a domestic and regional dimension. These are not easy tasks to handle simultaneously because the political turmoil of May still haunts the government and the country. Although various investigations have been conducted to get to the bottom of the matter, the truth about what happened during the riots, and the deaths and injuries that occurred, is unlikely to ever be revealed.

This is one area in which Abhisit needs to pay attention, as his political future and human rights credibility rest on this endeavour. Moreover, Abhisit has been criticised for pushing back Lao Hmong refugees who have been stranded in Thailand since the end of the Cold War. Even though that task was carried out in 2009, some non-governmental organisations claim the returnees suffered human rights violations as a result of the Thai authorities' actions. Thailand's rationale for sending the Hmong back to Laos thus came under international scrutiny and criticism.
Over the past year, the government's treatment of refugees could have been better.

For the past four decades, Thailand has managed huge influxes of refugees from various neighbouring countries, and has done so at sea and across land borders.

Therefore, as a country that supposedly respects human rights, we should not tolerate local authorities mistreating those who seek freedom and safety.

Thailand must continue to bridge the gap between current behaviour regarding refugees and what is deemed acceptable in the international bill of rights. Prime Minister Abhisit should know this better than anyone, and he can make a lot of difference if he puts his mind to the rights issues
The Nation, Bangkok

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