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in-focus

Govt urged to respect opinions on charter draft


EX-NHRC chief says it should separate itself from the constitution and outcome of the referendum

HUMAN-RIGHTS advocates yesterday urged the government to adhere to human-rights principles and be open to public opinions in regard to the current political situation and the charter referendum.
Meanwhile, the government yesterday denounced a petition to a UN agency by a group of academics to intervene in the human rights situation in Thailand as “opening the door to a dangerous foe”.
The authorities should support public participation in the upcoming referendum, said Niran Pitakwatchara, former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Such participation included those receiving, exporting, and exchanging information, he said.
Participation is crucial to the referendum process, he reasoned, as the vote contributed to direct democracy, allowing the public to decide on national policy and legal agendas.
“There is no need to say what to do and what not to do,” he said, referring to the Election Commission’s guidelines regarding the referendum. “Current laws have already been designed to punish false and abusive information.”
The former chairman worried that too narrow an interpretation against public expression, such as campaigning and political movements, could suffocate public freedom and consequently affect people’s decisions on their choices.
“If that happens, the plebiscite will be unacceptable and unreliable. On the contrary, if the process [of holding referendum] is fair it may enhance reconciliation in the country,” he said.
The government should also separate the draft matter from itself, he said. For instance, it should not view people criticising the draft as its rivals. If the draft is rejected, that will be because of its own content and not a reflection on the government, he said.
He suggested that the upcoming referendum should be open like the one in 2007, which was also hosted by a military junta.
Meanwhile, the government spokesman denounced an academic group’s move to petition against the government with the OHCHR, slamming them for “imagining information”.
The reaction came after the Thai Academic Network for Civil Rights (TANC) said on Thursday that it had submitted a petition to the OHCHR against the junta-backed government for alleged rampant human-rights violations.
Government Spokesman Maj-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd denied that the government had physically abused anyone, including repeat offenders, contrary to what was stated in the petition. All lawbreakers are detained and processed under the laws, Sansern insisted.
“Calling the UN agency to intervene in the country’s internal affairs is like opening the door to a dangerous foe,” Sansern said, in reaction to an academic group’s petition.
He also accused the group for “mixing up” facts, such as connecting the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) Order No 13/2016 to curb mafia with the referendum bill. “The order aims to curb the mafia while the bill is designed to prevent distortion of the draft’s contents,” he reasoned.
Deputy Government Spokesman Maj-General Werachon Sukhondh-apatipak said Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha was aware of the group’s move.
Jeremy Laurence, spokesman of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said the office always encouraged engagement between the government and civil society, including academic groups.
Both Sansern and Werachon said the government and the NCPO were not worried about the movement, and the government would not be affected by such actions.
Meanwhile, the OHCHR revealed that Thailand’s human rights record will be examined by the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review  Working Group next Wednesday in Geneva. The Kingdom was first reviewed in 2011, it said. The issues to be reviewed include expansion of internal policing powers for military officials, cases involving lese majeste, martial law and special emergency laws in southern border provinces, freedom of expression and assembly and the upcoming referendum.
In a related development, the Bangkok Military Court has approved an arrest warrant on lese majeste and computer crime charges for Patnaree Charmkij, the mother of key anti-junta activist Sirawith Seritiwat. She was denied bail.

Published : May 06, 2016

By : WASAMON AUDJARINT, ANAPAT DEE