By Chularat Saengpassa
Thailand joins the rest of the world celebrating the day on March 8.
“At least two women defenders have lost their lives since 2014,” said Katia Chirizzi, deputy representative at the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) Southeast Asia Regional Office, yesterday at an event held to mark the day.
Organised by the Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the event included awards for six prominent human-rights defenders and addressed challenges in their fields.
NHRC commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit said strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) had hindered human-rights defenders’ efforts.
“Used by both private firms and government agencies, these lawsuits cause concerns and fear. They have also posed a burden as the accused have to find money to fight their cases,” she said.
Angkhana said if SLAPP suits were not stopped, accountability and transparency in the country would suffer.
“We have to push for an anti-SLAPP law,” she said.
Many of yesterday’s award winners had faced some form of intimidation and harassment as a result of their human-rights work, Chirizzi said.
The NHRC has commended six women and women-related organisations for their prominent work: BUKU Football Club – Pattani Campus, which was established by the Student Union of Prince of Songkla University; Four Region Slum Network president Nutchanart Thanthong; ENLAW Foundation manager Supaporn Malailoy; Dararat Suthes, director of the state-run Phang Nga Child and Family Shelter; Thai PBS Television senior reporter Hathairat Phaholtap; and the Empower Foundation.
In her remarks regarding persecution of human-rights defenders, Dararat referred to how she had helped a Rohingya victim sue a man who had lured her from a state-run shelter and sexually attacked her.
“But that agent had ties with a senior government official. In the end, the victim was pressured not to go to court. My team ended up facing an investigation for alleged trafficking of Rohingya,” she said. “But because my financial records are clean, I was cleared. Such pressure has discouraged several officials from fighting for what is right when facing challenges or obstacles.”
Hathairat said she had once faced men wielding guns while covering news in Songkhla province.
“After my report on opposition against a plan to set up a power plant there went on air, I received threatening calls,” she said.
Nuchanart said she had been summoned to an “attitude adjustment” camp because of her role in helping people who had been evicted.
“No matter where we are, we are socially and politically involved. My goal is to fight social injustice,” she said.
Experiencing a forced eviction at the age of 22, Nuchanart has since worked for housing and land rights of the poor.
Empower Foundation representative Mai Chanta said her foundation had fought for the protection of sex workers’ rights.
“We do not demand any special treatment. We just demand what a human deserves,” she said. The award from the NHRC was proof that sex workers had human rights and dignity at a time when their livelihoods were still seen as illegal, she said.
For her part, Supaporn said she had hardly faced any legal threats, probably because she was a legal expert.
“But I am worried about local people. During the past three years, after I have come back from trips to educate people about the law, I have received reports that officials have started monitoring the participants in my activities.”
BUKU Football Club – Pattani Campus may seem like an unexpected winner at first glance.
But on a closer look, the football team stands out from others because it promotes gender equality, welcoming female football players to the delight of many girls and women.
“I enjoy playing football. I am glad that I have a field to enjoy my favourite sport. Elsewhere, boys take all the fields. I hope I will be able to become a football coach one day,” club member Nurahayatee Yusoh said.