Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Beaten human rights watchdog turns against itself

May 06. 2019
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By The Nation

Buckling under a five-year assault, the National Human Rights Commission has turned on the most prominent of its own members 

To call it failure would be an understatement. Hypocrisy would be a better word to describe the current course of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of Thailand in pleasing its political masters.

After coming into being over a decade ago, the Commission had stood up to repeated interference from successive governments. Initially it was deemed a model for national human rights bodies in Southeast Asia. 

Now, though, the NHRC appears to be caving in to political influence by permitting one of its own, Angkhana Neelaphaijit, to be pushed around by the junta.

Just a week ago, the NHRC launched a disciplinary inquiry against Commissioner Angkhana, who has spoken out repeatedly about the deteriorating condition of human rights under the military regime.

The inquiry was triggered by comments from Tuang Attachai, a junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly member, and a complaint filed with the commission by Surawat Sangkharuek, a pro-junta activist.

The inquiry focuses on Angkhana’s role in observing legal proceedings and documenting rights violations against opposition politicians and critics of the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). She faces possible impeachment.

“Thailand’s rights commission is sinking to a new low by seeking to punish Angkhana for doing her job by exposing rights abuses and demanding accountability,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “The commission’s leadership has repeatedly failed to hold the military government to its human rights obligations, but it appears now to be doing the junta’s dirty work.”

Tuang and Surawat’s motivation for attacking Angkhana is dubious, given their role as loyal servants to a military regime which seized power from an elected government and dismissed an elected Parliament. 

Tuang sits in the National Legislative Assembly and bills himself as a lawmaker. But the label fools no one: the question of legitimacy hangs heavy over all such military appointees as well the junta they serve so heartily. 

Surawat has no such status, but it is sad to see an apparently rational adult citizen commit himself so passionately to the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the fancy name the junta has given itself, without providing justification for his conviction.

Apparently, these men were upset at Angkhana’s role in documenting rights violations against NCPO critics, including their prosecution in military courts. Perhaps also motivating their action was a strong desire for a place in the regime’s good books. 

In 2015, a year after the junta came to power, the United Nations Human Rights Council downgraded the commission from “A” to “B”. This effectively revoked Thai commissioners’ right to present their views during council sessions.

The downgrade stemmed from the government manipulating the selection process for commissioners, as well as serious questions about the commission’s pro-government bias.

Since then, the junta has taken further action to weaken the Commission, stripping away its independence and attempting to turn it into a de facto government mouthpiece – one among many of the regime’s spin doctors.

In doing so the Thai regime defied UN principles relating to the Status of National Institutions (the Paris Principles).

“More than ever, Thailand needs a credible national rights agency, led by dedicated commissioners, to address the country’s worsening rights crisis,” Adams said. “The commission should drop its inquiry of Angkhana and ensure she can work in a secure environment without fear of reprisals.”

Angkhana is the wife the outspoken human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit, thought to have been forcibly “disappeared” by state forces in 2004. If anyone knows the importance of guarding human rights, it is her.

 

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