By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
THAILAND IS still far from its goal of valuing human rights since the junta’s policies and actions have eroded rights, while many people do not even understand the principle.
Prominent Thai campaigners marked Human Rights Day yesterday to lament that the country was still far from its professed goal of ensuring everyone was accorded the freedoms they deserve.
The nation’s most severe human rights violation was the lack of freedom of expression, they said in an appeal to the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to restore democracy to truly guarantee human rights for every citizen.
They also said Thailand faced many serious human rights crises. For instance, social movements across the country continued to be suppressed by authorities, the justice system was being used against human rights defenders, and many people in society still did not understand human rights and harmed others.
National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) commissioner and human rights defender Angkhana Neelaphaijit said that despite the government’s claim that it cherished human rights and had made them a priority, in reality it had done nothing to do so.
On the contrary, Angkhana said the government was doing the very opposite, enforcing many laws and regulations that violated human rights and curbing the activities of campaigners, both through law enforcement and by force.
In effect, the regime was deepening Thailand’s human rights crisis, she said.
“On the occasion of Human Rights Day, I would like to urge the government to do what they said and really push forward for human rights protection as per the national agenda by abolishing laws and regulations that diminish human rights and by passing human rights protections,” she said.
‘Lack of understanding’
Since she became an NHRC commissioner, Angkhana said she had noticed many conflicts among people affected by harmful projects and government policies, such as coal-fired power plant projects in the South and forestland reclamation policies, signifying the government’s lack of understanding of human rights principles.
The most severe human rights violation by this government regarded freedom of expression, which had been stifled by many NCPO orders and law, she said.
She cited NCPO order 3/2558, which grants military officers the power to conduct raids and arrest people without permission from a court and prohibits public gatherings of more than five people.
“Freedom of expression must return or we cannot resume the democratic administration of the country, as human rights principles and democracy are interrelated and cannot exist without each other,” Angkhana said.
Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Cross Cultural Foundation director, agreed that freedom of expression needed to be restored first so that people’s other rights could then follow and the junta could return democracy to the people.
“Freedom of expression is a basic right for everyone, but right now there are many laws that oppress this right and many people are prosecuted just for expressing their opinions,” Pornpen said.
She said there were serious rights violations regarding natural resources management, which was a major problem in Thailand, made worse by a lack of freedom of expression. Examples included a recent crackdown on peaceful demonstrations against the Thepa coal-fired power plant last month and lawsuits against environmental campaigners across the country, which were clear statements that people did not have the right to campaign freely, she said.
Pornpen also said many people, especially the middle class, did not understand human rights or their importance in society, as she had had direct experience with people misunderstanding her campaigns to defend the rights of marginalised people.
“It is ironic that the lack of awareness and understanding of human rights by the middle class is because Thailand previously had good human rights protections and this group of people had easy access to fundamental rights that everyone should have, such as safety in life, healthcare and education,” she said.
“However, their wealth makes many of them unaware of the importance of these rights and unaware that all people should have these rights as well, since many marginalised groups of people such as hill tribes, LGBTQ and the poor are deprived of these rights.”
Human Rights Day falls on December 10 every year to mark the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was declared by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.