Updated: Human rights muddle

10 02 2010
Update: We used the right term for this post – “muddle”. If you don’t believe it, read this editorial in The Nation (11 February 2010) and compare it with the Kavi article below.
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The Nation (8 February 2010) has an editorial on human rights that is about as muddled as one can get. Entitled “Thailand in the world spotlight on human rights” the editorial writer has this tortured logic (pun intended):

The current Thai government is somehow remiss for “allowing” Thailand’s human rights record to be scrutinized by outsiders, viz: “Thailand is either very smart or the silliest country in the world for allowing the international community, especially human rights organisations, to scrutinise its human rights record,” and “One wonders how many countries in the world, especially within Asean, would allow these organisations to dissect the government’s legislation and practices to the tee.”

This is dumb, misinformed or both. The organizations mentioned are Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Commission for Jurists (ICJ), both of which regularly report on a large range of countries, including many that actively try to prevent scrutiny.

At another level these statements are deeply troubling for suggesting that perhaps Thailand should join those countries that try to prevent scrutiny or define human rights in terms that allow abuses.

Yet the author agrees that the “verdict is quite clear: Thailand can do better than it has recently.” Then it is stated: “Thailand genuinely believes in democracy and human rights. This government has a policy to promote and protect human rights inside the country and within the Asean region.” Then, this preposterous statement: “Luckily, Thailand is improving in its human rights record by the day.”

The point of the HRW report was to point to a list of abuses. This is not saying that things are getting better. The author says the HRW report is a “good example of how a well-respected human rights advocacy group would like to see greater improvement of rights practices in Thailand. So, HRW came out with harsh criticism and lists of recommendations.” The issue is partly that the Abhisit Vejjajiva government has made a song and dance of saying it protects human rights but does something else.

Then, like a number of government supporters who have been sent out to work on the blogs, the editor states: “HRW overdid it in the press release attacking Thailand’s human rights record, especially the government’s response to political turmoil due to the polarisation of various political pressure groups.”

This is a fallacy. The press release shows little substantive difference from the full report. It is just much shorter and uses some synonyms that lazy readers, including government ministers, chose to interpret as having a deep and dangerous meaning. The government’s chief of censorship and propaganda, Sathit Wongnongtoey – described in the editorial as making “immature comments” – actually accused HRW of getting red shirt information and publishing it. As PPT pointed out at the time , the press release sections on “political turmoil” matched the government’s own statements at the time of the Songkhran Uprising.

The editorial then goes off on a “I love Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva” tangent, claiming that Abhisit welcomed the HRW report as “a noble objective.” It is added that “Abhisit was not perturbed by the report, which he pledged to investigate further on alleged human rights violations here. It was only Abhisit’s own ethics and belief in human rights that let such a hard personal attack on him pass. If previous governments had been involved, representatives of the HRW would have been expelled without doubt.”

Readers of PPT knows that we have repeatedly pointed out that Abhisit has a penchant for PR statements that are then shown to be untrue, so we have no illusions that would suggest that we should love Abhisit as the only noble amongst a bunch of nasty, horrible politicians. Our comments on Abhisit’s odd initial comments on the HRW report are here.

The comment on human rights representatives being expelled seems odd. As far as PPT can recall (correct us if we are wrong) no representative of an international human rights organization has been expelled in the past decade and more. We think the last person expelled who was involved with human rights was back in mid-2000. Of course, Thaksin Shinawatra wasn’t too fond of international scrutiny on human rights and was wont to overreact.

Remarkably, the editorial admits the gap between Abhisit’s promises and what happens on the ground. This is the explanation: “the biggest problem so far has been whenever there are clear policies emanating from Abhisit and concerned authorities on rights issues, officials on the ground have failed to implement them in effective ways, especially in the troubled South. So, there are great discrepancies between pronounced policies and implementation; encouraging the stereotype belief that the Abhisit government has double standards and is hypocritical.”

Stereotype? Rohinga, Hmong, Karen stereotypes? Lese majeste stereotypes? And so on. Actually, this is a chorus now emanating from the Democrat Party. Its tripe, but the more ludicrous expansions of this involve an evil plot by pro-Thaksin Shinawatra groups to destabilize the government. PPT thinks the polite terminology for this is grasping at straws.

The editorial writer describes the ICJ report on the use of the Internal Security Act as an “excellent report [that] urged the Thai government to improve on this frequently used legislation to ensure that Thai human rights are properly protected in times of political crisis.” The ICJ states: “While welcoming significant improvements to previous draft versions of the bill, the report warns that the ISA risks undermining the rule of law by conferring broad and vaguely defined preventative powers to the military-dominated Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC).” Its report expresses three main concerns:

· That many definitions and provisions are vague and overbroad, thus potentially criminalising a wide range of behaviours that pose no security threat;

· That fundamental rights – particularly those relating to liberty and security of the person, fair trial and due process, freedom of movement, association and expression – are at risk of being violated; and

· That sweeping powers granted to security forces risk undermining the principles of civilian authority and democratic governance.

This is trenchant criticism from an organization that is often reasonably conservative in the language it chooses.

The editorial then talks of the “key role” that the government played “in establishing the Asean Intergovernmental Commissioner for Human Rights.” The writer doesn’t point out that almost every sensible human rights agency thinks this mechanism is toothless if not useless.

In the end, is seeking to blame anyone but the very nice Mr. Abhisit, the editorial writer rounds on the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). The writer argues that the “current NHRC team has been a big disappointment for its failure to probe key human rights issues.” That’s an understatement.

But the editorial writer wants the NHRC to release more annual reports about the state of human rights in the country to educate Thai people. Well, yes, but the current NHRC is a toothless and largely unqualified panel that is really meant to be benign for the government.

It is clear that the writer wants better human rights in Thailand but the response is so muddled by the political debates of recent years that the writer can’t do much more than come up with a mish-mash of contradictions while knowing only that Abhisit has to be supported. The writer must know that letting the military and police get back huge and unchecked powers is a major reason for human rights abuses in Thailand under all governments. Abhisit owes his position to the military. That’s an unlikely foundation for improved human rights in Thailand.

What the writer forgets is that there is a human rights NGO in Thailand with a long history. And it happens that they have just released a report on 2009. We refer to the Union of Civil Liberty. UCL has had a long history of taking on difficult issues, but it too was and remains caught up in the remarkable political side-taking and censorship and self-censorship regarding the monarchy that has been heightened in recent years, so what is noticeably missing from their attempt at evenhandedness is any mention of political arrests under lese majeste (in the past, UCL was once a brave defender of those charged) and under the Computer Crimes Act. Even so, their assessment is an antidote to the Nation’s muddleheadedness.


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10 02 2010
Thailand is either very smart or the silliest country in the world « GJBKK Blog

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