Amnesty International is confused about human rights in Thailand

7 09 2009

Update: PPT has sent this article to Amnesty International and invited a response. We will post any response we get.

Thanks to a reader for pointing out a very important story PPT missed. It is Marwaan Macan-Markar and from 31 August 2009 (“Lese Majeste Law Tests Mettle of Human Rights Groups”). Marwaan makes a point PPT has been posting about as well: “Thailand’s draconian lese majeste law is steadily emerging as a testing ground for the principles that renowned international human rights lobbies stand for.”

“Amnesty International (AI) in London and the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) have pursued recently are similar. They have opted to remain silent – in public, at least – or offer tepid responses when the 100-year-old law is enforced. Yet how long these twin leaders of the global human rights movement can get away with such silence has been brought into relief by a verdict delivered in a Thai court on Aug. 28.”

PPT would argue that HRW has been a little better than AI, who have been, frankly, hopeless. There is no other word that can sum up their silence. Are they a serious human rights group in Thailand?

Apparently not. Marwaan has this from Benjamin Zawacki, a South-east Asia researcher for AI: “We have felt that working in a more private capacity than in a public way is the most appropriate and the most effective response on the lese majeste issue to date…. There is an implicit knowledge of the sensitivity of this law.” AI have been saying this since at least January (when PPT was established) and there is no evidence of any success from an AI that prefers to deal with the elite. And, the very elite that protects itself with this law. In fact, the cases continue (all of them) and the setences are getting stiffer.

And it gets worse: Zawacki explained to Marwaan that for AI, there are “competing interests at stake; one is the right to freedom of expression. But you have an institution here that has played an important role in the protection of human rights in Thailand…”. He adds: “We can see why the monarchy needs to be protected.”

For PPT, this is a travesty. Which human rights is Zawacki thinking of? The support of political murders by palace “father” Sarit Thanarat? The forcible removable of hill-dwelling people from lands they have occupied for decades? The palace-incited murder of hundreds in October 1976? The overthrow of an elected government by military force in 2006? The trampling of the 1997 Constitution perhaps? Perhaps he has something else in mind, but keeping it private?

Thongchai Winichakul, professor of South-east Asian studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison says: “The international human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have done something that, in my opinion, were very small, light, mild, ineffective and careless…”.

Thongchai is too light and mild. AI should be ashamed of its position in Thailand on this issue. Amnesty International is hindering human rights, not helping them.


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6 responses

4 09 2009
7 09 2009
Global Voices Online » Thailand: Amnesty criticised on lese majeste issue

[…] failure to take sufficient action in lese majeste cases. Political Prisoners in Thailand says that Amnesty should be ashamed of its position on the issue. Bangkok Pundit also criticises Amnesty's response. Cancel this […]

9 09 2009
New: Amnesty International fails to respond on lese majeste « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] AIUSA, Benjamin Zawacki (AI’s SE Asia person) and Steve Ballinger (AI UK), sending them our recent post on their position on lese […]

20 09 2009
New: AI responds to Ji Ungpakorn « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] PPT readers will know that we invited Amnesty International to respond to us regarding our post of 7 September where we observed that AI should be ashamed of its position in Thailand on lese majeste and, we […]

21 09 2009
องค์กรนิรโทษกรรมสากล ตอบใจ อึ๊งภากรณ์ « Liberal Thai

[…] ๗ กันยายน ซึ่งเราสังเกตเห็นได้ว่า […]

17 04 2010
Protest via Amnesty International USA « Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] earlier commentary on AI and Thailand see here, here, here, here, here, here and here. It is a long and sorry […]




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