PPT has just read the annual country chapter for Thailand in 2011 published by Human Rights Watch, with the title “Downward Slide on Human Rights.” We have to admit to being shocked.
We are not shocked by the fact that Thailand in 2011 saw human rights abuses, many of which PPT has posted on. We are shocked by an HRW that is unashamedly politically biased. HRW risks occupying the same dubious “human rights” location as the weak-kneed Amnesty International in Thailand.
We will not comment below on every aspect of this report, but simply highlight several points.
One of the major issues is that, for HRW, 2011 essentially begins in July. Its report opens with the election victory by Yingluck Shinawatra and her Puea Thai Party. HRW’s first comment is that the “new government has not yet fulfilled early promises to give priority to Thailand’s many human rights problems.”
That’s true. But shouldn’t HRW be comparing whether human rights are better or worse than under the previous Abhisit Vejjajiva government? You’d barely know what has happened in the 5 months of the Yingluck government compared with the 31 months of the Abhisit government.
HRW specifically addresses accountability for political violence in 2010. HRW notes that in January 2011 investigations stalled, especially in relation to the actions of state security forces. There is barely a word of criticism of the Abhisit government that repeatedly refused any serious investigations. Rather, this:
Prime Minister Yingluck vowed to end these delays after appointing Gen. Priewpan Damapong, Thaksin’s brother-in-law, as national police chief in September.
The status of investigations into alleged crimes by UDD “Black Shirt” militants remained unclear, with the Yingluck government denying the group’s existence. A number of those accused of deadly attacks against soldiers, police officers, and anti-UDD groups were released on bail. The election of 12 senior UDD leaders as ruling Pheu Thai Party members of parliament raised serious concerns that they would be able to use their political influence and parliamentary immunity to evade accountability for their role in the 2010 violence.
This is essentially a plagiarism of ASTV/Manager and other People’s Alliance for Democracy.
There is no attempt to account for the Yingluck government’s work in relation to investigations, which have been on-going and has finally included having Abhisit and his former deputy Suthep Thaugsuban provide statements on their role.
The Yingluck government is then said to have “promised full support for the work of the Truth for Reconciliation Commission,” and is justifiably criticized for not yet granting the TRC the powers it needs. But then HRW develops human rights amnesia.
the TRCT found that the Abhisit government had pressured law enforcement officials to charge hundreds of ordinary UDD protesters with serious criminal offenses and hold them in pre-trial detention for months without the possibility of bail. The government announced in September that it would review the charges against those protesters and ensure they are treated in accordance with due process and human rights guarantees. The TRCT also recommended that a special mechanism be established to provide fair compensation and other remedies to all victims of abuse and political violence.
In fact, quite unlike the Abhisit government, the Yingluck government has moved on all of these recommendations. Some progress seems to us to be better than none at all.
The report then turns to freedom of expression and media. In this, the record of the Abhisit government is noted, but with no judgement or assessment. It is said that:
From 2008 to 2011 the Abhisit government oversaw the closure of more than 1,000 websites, a satellite television station, online television channels, printed publications, and more than 40 community radio stations for allegedly threatening national security or broadcasting material deemed offensive to the monarchy.
In fact, this account tends to diminish the censorship undertaken under Abhisit. While closing 1,000 websites, it has blocked tens of thousands in a regime of censorship deeper than at any time since 1976-77.
But what of lese majeste? HRW states that
Thai authorities continue to use the Computer Crimes Act and article 112 of the penal code, lese majeste (insulting the monarchy), to enforce censorship and persecute dissidents.
Well, yes, but what of the record of the Abhisit government? Not a word, while the current government is criticized. As far as PPT can tell, while the current government has been outspoken in support of the use of lese majeste, all cases seem to us to have begun under Abhisit who established the regime of lese majeste repression.
Are we being unfair in asking that HRW be even-handed on the historical record? No, because in the one section of the report when HRW does make a comparison, it is of the Yingluck government’s anti-narcotics policy and the 2003 War on Drugs under Thaksin Shinawatra.
Why is there a historical comparison on this but not for other human rights abuses? In our view it is blatant political bias. The promotion of human rights in Thailand needs to be unbiased and fearless. Both HRW and AI fail that test.
On fearlessness in promoting human rights, we can point to the documented failure for HRW on lese majeste. It shows how silence and duplicity on lese majeste impacts a range of other rights. The evidence is in a Wikileaks cable.
STATE FOR EAP/MLS, DRL FOR BUCKLEY
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/05/2018
TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, PREL, KPAO, TH
SUBJECT: THAI UNION LEADER STANDS ALONE AMID THREATS AND
13. … Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch expressed concern
about … case, regretted that the \”sensitive nature\” of
her case, due to the anti-monarchy allegations, limited his
involvement, and explained that association with the case
would damage his ability to work as a human rights defender
in Thailand. Manager Media\’s portrayal of … as
anti-monarchy mixed with her role as an outspoken labor union
leader created an unattractive combination, he opined.
If HRW can’t work on cases like this one, then what is its role? By remaining silent, HRW is complicit in human rights abuse.
And, the press release headline “Downward Slide on Human Rights” is simply an unproven and biased interpretation. PPT agrees that human rights remain dismal in Thailand, but we’d argue that the struggle for better human rights outcomes in Thailand currently has more space than under the Abhisit regime.
None of this means that human rights bodies should go easy on the present government. Rather, they should be realistic and fair rather than politically-driven while engaging in complicit silences.