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THAILAND – Asian NGOs urge NHRCT to take on a more proactive role addressing violations

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(16 June 2010) The Asian NGOs Network on National Human Rights Institutions (ANNI) expresses grave concern over numerous reports of human rights violations in Thailand during the series of violent protests that prompted the Thai government to place Bangkok and other provinces under emergency decree on 7 April 2010.

The ANNI calls upon the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT), as an organ responsible for the promotion of protection of human rights in the country, to take appropriate measures to fully investigate these allegations.

From¬†12¬†March 2010 to 19 May 2010, the United Front for¬†Democracy against¬†Dictatorship (UDD), also known as the “Red Shirt¬†Movement”, held a series of large scale political protests against the¬†Thailand¬†government. Initially, the protests were peaceful but tension grew as¬†the¬†protesters occupied the Ratchaprasong area, one of Bangkok’s main¬†commercial districts.¬† The government later declared a state of¬†emergency in¬†Bangkok and its surrounding provinces and ordered a series of military¬†offensives against the protesters. The protests ended on 19 May 2010,¬†after key¬†UDD leaders surrendered to government authorities. In the aftermath of¬†the¬†protests, at least 80 civilians and 6 soldiers were reported killed.¬†Moreover,¬†at least 2,100 people were reported injured and several landmark¬†properties¬†were destroyed. To date, the emergency decree is still in force¬†in¬†Bangkok and its surrounding provinces, and other provinces considered to¬†be Red¬†Shirt strongholds.

As the¬†protests died down, numerous allegations of human rights violations¬†start to¬†surface. There are allegations of unlawful arrests, arbitrary detention,¬†enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings. Moreover, there¬†have also¬†been several allegations of violations on the right to freedom of¬†opinion and¬†expression. One particular case is that of Prachatai and its executive¬†director, Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn. Prachatai is a popular online¬†media¬†accommodating a diversity of information and commentaries on various¬†topics,¬†including human rights. On 31 March 2010, Ms. Premchaiporn, executive¬†director¬†of Prachatai, was arrested and charged under Thailand’s Computer-Related¬†Crimes Act for allegedly allowing inflammatory comments to be posted by¬†readers¬†on Prachatai’s online discussion fora.

The ANNI understands that the NHRCT had already taken initial steps to look into allegations of human rights violations committed in the context of the crisis. These steps include convening a fact-finding body and assigning one of its members, Dr. Niran Pitakwatchara, to look into complaints surrounding the orders by the Center for Restoration of Emergency Situation (CRES) to detain anti-government activists.

It should¬†be noted though that under the General Observations adopted by the¬†International Coordinating Committee (ICC) of NHRIs last June 2009, it¬†is¬†stated that an NHRI, during states of emergency, should “conduct itself¬†with a heightened level of vigilance and independence in the exercise of¬†its¬†mandate.” Therefore, the ANNI believes that the NHRCT should do more¬†than¬†the steps it had already taken and be more vigorous and proactive in its¬†actions to address these allegations of human rights violations.

The ANNI urges the NHRCT to have more constant engagement and communication with civil society groups and individuals who may have information or evidence that could shed more light on these allegations.  It should seek to meet with these groups and individuals and provide them space to speak about their grievances. The ANNI also believes that the NHRCT should actively and publicly recommend to the government of Thailand that international human rights experts or relevant Special Procedures mandate holders be invited into Thailand to look into the current human rights situation of the country and to strongly recommend that the Thai government immediately ensure respect for basic rights such as the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Finally,¬†the ANNI urges the NHRCT to vigorously urge the government of Thailand¬†to¬†respect its obligations under international human rights law. As a¬†member of UN¬†Human Rights Council and a state in pursuit of the Council’s presidency,¬†Thailand should work harder to show that it is willing to face the¬†current political¬†crisis head-on and explore solutions so that there may be respect for¬†human¬†rights in the country.